The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated school reopening guidelines on Friday, which emphasize continuing several strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools and identifying the role of vaccines in reopening.
The five strategies to reduce the spread listed in Friday's guidelines include:
— Cleaning facilities on a regular basis.
— Contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
— Properly wearing masks.
— Social distancing.
In particular, the two mitigation strategies most salient for schools operating in-person are wearing masks properly and continuing to social distance, according to the summary.
The report also includes a color-coded table for school districts to determine when to reopen based on community transmission of the coronavirus. Blue indicates a low transmission rate of zero to nine new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days; yellow is moderate with 10-49 new cases; orange is substantial with 50-99 new cases; and red indicates high transmission of 100 or more new cases.
Hamilton County Schools reopened schools for in-person learning in phase 2 of its reopening plan on Feb. 1, with younger students returning to school four days a week and older students learning in a hybrid setting. For the week of Feb. 15-19, the district will enter phase 3 and open schools five days a week for all students except those learning in a fully virtual setting. These changes follow the school district's phase tracker based on data from the past five days via the Hamilton County Health Department.
Vaccines are not included in the CDC's five mitigation strategies, but the report states that vaccinating teachers and staff and testing for COVID-19 are additional strategies to reduce the spread in schools. After vaccinating school staff, social distancing and mask-wearing should be continued, according to the report.
"Strategies to minimize barriers to accessing vaccination for teachers and other front-line essential workers, such as vaccine clinics at or close to the place of work, are optimal. Access to vaccination should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction," the report states.
The report also encourages "state, territorial, local and tribal" officials to prioritize vaccinating school staff upon entering phase 1b. Some surrounding counties have entered phase 1b, and Hamilton County Schools is waiting for the district to move into the phase before vaccinating teachers.
Contact Anika Chaturvedi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.