Reopening schools emphasized in new CDC guidelines

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Local health expert says decisions need to be made "smartly and scientifically"

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is out with new guidelines — and there’s heavy emphasis on getting students back in school.

With that comes challenges of in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“To the extent we can, I think we need to start to get back to normalcy,” said former Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Anthony Billittier.

He says any decision to put children back in the classroom needs to be done “smartly and scientifically.”  

“It makes me a little nervous that this is going to be an individual school district decision when in reality it probably should be a regional decision,” said Billittier, chief medical officer for Independent Health.

The White House has emphasized that the guidance is only a recommendation and won’t replace state and local decision-making.

The CDC notes the virus poses a relatively low risk to school-aged children, but it also emphasizes that there is a physical risk to returning.

For example, the guidelines say some children may be at increased risk of serious illness from the virus, like those who have underlying conditions.

CDC guidelines recommend keeping students in pods and having teachers stay with the same group. There are also broader recommendations like social distancing, face masks and hand hygiene.

Billittier says any decision should be made in collaboration with public health officials.

“The question though is:  is that a place, the petri dish if you will, where COVID is going to get spread amongst kids, and then they’re going to bring it back into the community and expose people who are at risk?”

He likens this to a real-world experiment that needs to be watched closely.

“We need to watch it not just amongst the kids, as I mentioned. We need to watch it in terms of numbers throughout the community,” Billittier explained.  “It’s not just about the kids who go to school.”

“It’s about people to whom they come home after school and could cough on and breathe on,” he said.

The CDC also says children’s behavioral health, economic well-being and academic achievement is harmed in the short and long-term when schools are closed.

“Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities,” the CDC wrote. “These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and far more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs.”

The CDC says in-classroom instruction does the following:

  • provides educational instruction;
  • supports the development of social and emotional skills;
  • creates a safe environment for learning;
  • addresses nutritional needs; and
  • facilitates physical activity.

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