The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pulled contentious school guidance off its website that advocated for students returning to in-person learning.
The guidance was quietly removed Oct. 29 without any public announcement or explanation. Originally published in July, the agency downplayed the transmission risks COVID-19 poised to children and others, emphasizing that closing schools would be detrimental to their social and emotional well-being and safety.
The document was removed because the information on COVID-19 transmission among children was outdated, Jason McDonald, a spokesperson for the CDC, said in a statement.
“This document does not provide appropriate and necessary context or considerations about how to safely open schools for in-person learning,” McDonald said.
The CDC’s website now says, “the body of evidence is growing that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play a role in transmission.”
The news of the CDC change in message came as Michigan’s coronavirus cases have surged and state restrictions, including stopping face-to-face instruction at high schools and colleges through Dec. 8, were enacted to help slow the spread of the virus.
“Over the past nine months we’ve learned school-age children can contract COVID and, while their symptoms may generally be mild, they do succumb to the virus,’’ Liz Boyd, Michigan Education Association spokeswoman, said in a statement. “They also can transmit it to otherwise healthy people and those numbers are on the rise.’’
Will the change in the CDC guidelines make a difference?
“We’re not able to say but we know that our members believe virtual learning, while not optimal, is the best option in the face of these skyrocketing COVID-19 cases,’’ Boyd said.
Teachers are on the front line of this pandemic and believe their voices should be heard, Boyd said. She cited findings in MEA’s recent survey of members that show more than 8-in-10 Michigan educators are concerned about the safety of in-person learning right now.
“It is unfortunate that there is an unwillingness among some people to follow the science and the advice of public health experts,’’ Boy said.
The decision whether to conduct classes in-person or remotely has been left up to Michigan school districts this fall. But last week’s safety steps by state and local health officials do not completely align with the CDC’s updated guidance on in-person learning. Districts were not required to close buildings to K-8 in-person classes because the transmission risk was deemed lower.
The state’s guidance on COVID-19 has changed over time based on new knowledge about COVID-19, said Lynn Sutfin, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman.
“COVID-19 is a novel virus and much has been learned since the start of the pandemic about symptoms, transmission and prevention,” Sutfin said in a prepared statement. “Guidance has been updated and changed over time.”
State health officials have acknowledged that COVID-19 can spread among all age groups, Sutfin said.
“We have shared the message that all Michiganders, no matter what age, are vulnerable to COVID-19 and the health effects of the virus and can spread the virus to others,” she said. “MDHHS officials use data and science along with CDC guidance to assist in making recommendation on a variety of issues.”
When state restrictions were announced on Nov. 15, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said COVID-19 transmission rates vary between grade levels, with transmission more likely to happen at the high school level.
In a public health warning issued Friday, Nov. 20, by the Kent County Health Department, Director Adam London said students in grades K-8 could continue with face-to-face learning even though high schools were ordered to close, calling younger students “less effective transmitters of coronavirus than high school students.”
“The education of our young people is also essential for the wellbeing of the community,” the health notice states.
The announcement was made based on recommendations from a team of pediatricians and physicians, who said younger children are less effective at spreading the virus, London said.
But the health director also acknowledged that because COVID-19 is so new, the evidence is not 100% conclusive.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have very clear, concise and conclusive directions or science about what the best thing to do is,” London said, when asked whether the CDC and MDHHS guidelines contradicted one another.
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