US COVID: CDC updates school guidelines, Trump wants reopenings

New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines favour reopening schools, with health and safety precautions.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late on Thursday issued new guidelines with a heavy focus on reopening schools in the coming months, arguing that children are less likely to experience severe symptoms or spread the virus in schools.

Under the new guidelines, the CDC recommends that schools follow precautions based on the level of community transmission in their area. The CDC advises that unless there is substantial, uncontrolled community transmission in an area, schools should try to reopen.

“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” the CDC director said in a statement announcing the guidelines. “School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”

The recommendations include physically distancing schoolchildren through cohorting or pods as well as a number of other measures to limit possible transmission of the coronavirus.

According to the CDC, there are few reports of children transmitting the virus to their families. It said as of July 17, children and adolescents account for less than 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.

Earlier on Thursday, US President Donald Trump said states that are currently coronavirus hot spots may need to delay reopening schools by a few weeks, but otherwise pushed for students to be able to return to classrooms en masse in the coming months.

“They have to open,” Trump said of schools nationwide.

The president said it would be up to governors in the badly affected states to decide about school reopenings, and said decisions needed to be based on data. The concession was a turnaround from Trump’s stance that he would withhold federal aid from schools that refused to open. 

Schools were shut down across the country after the novel coronavirus emerged and began spreading, and Trump has been determined to find a way to get them open again.

With schools set to resume in a few weeks, local officials have announced a variety of plans, including some that involve continuing remote instruction through the rest of 2020.

While the risk of severe COVID-19 is seen as relatively low for children, there is a fear they could infect more vulnerable teachers and other adult school administrators.

Despite Trump’s pressure, only one in four Americans think it is safe for public schools to reopen so soon as US coronavirus cases climb, and four in 10 parents said they would likely keep their children home if classes resume, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week.

Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, has accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen.

He said the administration was pushing Congress to provide $105bn to schools as part of the next coronavirus relief bill currently under negotiation.

“If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to public, private, charter, religious or home school of their choice,” Trump said. “If the school is closed, the money should follow the student.”

Earlier this month, Trump criticised the initial CDC guidelines on schools as too tough, impractical and expensive. The agency charged with protecting Americans’ health then said it would issue additional guidelines.

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