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Leaked CDC memo says school opening poses ‘highest risk’ of virus spread

The debate between political and public health leaders spills into public view

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Photo (c) Maria_Castellanos - Getty Images
School is scheduled to start in some jurisdictions in less than a month, but few districts have formulated a plan for reopening during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Part of the delay could be due to a strong disconnect between political and public health policymakers.

The New York Times has published what it says is an internal memo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which makes a case against sending children back to the classroom in the fall.

The 69-page document warns that a full reopening of schools this fall -- including colleges and universities -- would carry the “highest risk” for the spread of the virus. The internal memo was reportedly produced to guide policymakers as they make decisions about how to handle the school year.

The debate went public last week as President Trump took to social media to criticize the CDC’s guidelines to school districts as too tough. Trump demanded a softened version, but CDC officials last week gave no indication that they were prepared to do that.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss made the talkshow rounds Sunday to push for districts to reopen schools next month. On Fox News Sunday, Devoss contended that “nothing in the data” suggests children being in school is “in any way dangerous” -- a suggestion at odds with the leaked CDC memo.

“Parents are expecting that this fall their kids are going to have a full-time experience with their learning, and we need to follow through on that promise,” DeVos said.

States set their own course

Different states have taken different approaches in the absence of a coordinated national plan. In Florida, which last week reported a one-day record of more than 15,000 new cases of the virus, school districts plan to reopen classrooms for the new school year.

On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho said science, not politics, will guide the district’s plans and that schools will follow the existing CDC guidelines as they reopen.

“They may be difficult to achieve but there are mitigation strategies you can take in lieu of the six feet of distancing, like the wearing of masks, which will be a mandatory element when we do reopen,” Carvalho said.

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s public schools would not fully reopen for the fall term. According to de Blasio, students will spend one to three days in the classroom each week. The rest of the time, students will participate in online instruction.

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