CDC highlights case study on how schools could reopen safely

Bara Vaida

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

school busTo showcase how schools could reopen safely this year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, M.D., highlighted an effort in Rhode Island to reopen hundreds of child care programs, while keeping community spread of COVID-19 in check.

During a rare media briefing on Aug. 21, Redfield talked to reporters about how evidence continues to show that mask wearing, daily symptom screening, enhanced sanitation and keeping students in small controlled groups is a strategy that can limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The excellent work done by … Rhode Island, provides data that when things are done with vigilance, in partnership with the public health community, that you can … open child care [programs] and not have secondary infections,” Redfield said.

Redfield added that it is in the best interest of public health for children to return to school this fall and the agency wanted to make a point of talking about Rhode Island “because it does show the possible.”

However, several reporters pointed out to Redfield that in June and July, the spread of SARS-CoV-2 was low in that state and questioned whether the state’s strategy could be applied to other communities where SARS-CoV-2 is spreading widely.

Redfield said that in the communities where the positivity rate – meaning that the number of COVID tests with positive results – was below 5%, this was a strategy that could work. He noted that the CDC published additional guidelines on Aug. 21 for schools and child care programs to help them with reopening plans.

As of Aug. 21, 30 states reported positivity rates of 5% or higher, meaning that spread of the virus wasn’t under control, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

Redfield reiterated that for states to get COVID-19 under control “everybody,” not just half the population or 75% of the population, needed to “embrace the responsibility” of consistently wearing a mask in public, to exercise “smart” behavior in crowds, practice hand hygiene and stay home when sick.

On a separate point, Redfield said he remains “cautiously optimistic” there will be a vaccine available by the end of the year. Redfield’s comments diverge from that of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Anthony Fauci, M.D., who says he is “cautiously optimistic” there will be a vaccine in early 2021.

The transcript of the briefing can be found here.

For more on school reopenings, see these recent AHCJ stories:

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