A team of scientists published an op-ed in USA Today on Tuesday that called out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for allegedly misrepresenting their research in its guidance on school closures.
The article, co-authored by Dr. Tara Henderson and Dr. Daniel Johnson at the University of Chicago with Dr. Monica Gandhi and Dr. Tracy Beth Hoeg at the University of California, was headlined, “CDC misinterpreted our research on opening schools. It should loosen the rules now.”
The researchers highlighted that the CDC had used their work to issue recommendations for schools re-openings they claim is based in fear, as only half of all K-12 schools in the U.S. are offering any in-person learning, with less than a quarter offering full in-person instruction to students.
“Like in so many states, California and Illinois schools are being hamstrung by the CDC guidance,” they wrote. “The guidance does not take into account the data we have regarding little disease transmission in schools. Nor, although the guidance cites the work performed across Wisconsin districts performed by our group and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, does it take that data and new analyses from that data set into account.”
The research authors are professors of medicine and epidemiologists. They went on to outline the science showing it’s not only safe to re-open schools, but essential for public health.
“Keeping schools closed or even partially closed, based on what we know now is unwarranted, is harming children, and has become a human rights issue,” they wrote.
To start, 288 U.S. children in total have died from complications from COVID-19, compared to more than 500,000 U.S. adults in the last 12 months.
“While the death of any child is devastating, this is similar to the number who dies from influenza each year,” the doctors point out. “COVID-19 deaths in children and adolescents are magnitudes smaller than deaths from suicide, some now driven by school closure.”
The team of scientists also highlights research that concludes in-person learning leads to minimal community COVID spread even in high-risk areas with students spaced three (not six) feet apart. Staff remained entirely untouched by the virus.
Dr. Hoeg led a study of 4,876 grade K-12 students and 654 staff members in Wisconsin school districts last fall. COVID-19 test positivity rates reached 41.6% in the community during the study. Notably, despite the majority of ventilation systems not being replaced, with 92% of students wearing masks (no mask wearing during recess), and with variable distancing, there were only seven students (five children grades K-six, and two in grades seven-12) and zero staff who contracted the virus in school.
The researchers also note that the three-foot distance for students as well as often not using masks is safe for children in school settings, according to research.
…no science supports mandating 6 feet of distance with children wearing masks. A 6-foot distance between students creates space constraints for schools to open in entirety. There is data supporting at least 3-foot distancing.
In Dr. Hoeg’s study, more than 90% of elementary school children were less than 6 feet apart in the classroom and while eating (~80% of grades seven-12 were 6 feet apart in classroom but less in hallways and while eating). Recently, the CDC cited data of clusters of COVID-19 cases in Georgia. In this study, students sat less than 3 feet apart (not just less than 6 feet), there were small group instruction sessions in which teachers sat next to students, and many did not wear masks or wore them inappropriately.
And when it came to variants, “France, Spain, Switzerland and Belgium have demonstrated that K-12 schools can remain fully open safely even as the United Kingdom variant becomes dominant.”
CDC guidelines currently stipulate schools should re-open only in areas of low and moderate viral transmission, provided institutions follow its standards of social distancing and mask compliance.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in February the new guidelines were based in part on pressure from Democrats and teachers’ unions, which have resisted a return to in-person instruction across the country. Walensky made clear last month, however, as unions demand for their members to jump the line in vaccine priority, that vaccination “is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools.”