Ray Carter | January 14, 2021

CDC declares schools should be ‘the last settings to close’

Ray Carter

Newly released data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that COVID-19 infections in areas with in-person instruction at K-12 schools are comparable to the rate in areas where students are limited to virtual options.

The CDC also advises that schools should be the “the last settings to close” in areas with high COVID-19 rates.

The CDC data bolsters Gov. Kevin Stitt’s call for all Oklahoma schools to reopen and provide in-person learning as an option for students.

A release issued by Stitt’s office highlighted the data and declared, “In case you missed it, new CDC data continues to show it is safe for students and teachers to return to in-person learning.”

The CDC report, which reviewed data collected from March 1 to Dec. 12, 2020, reveals that “outbreaks within K–12 schools have been limited, and as of the week beginning December 6, aggregate COVID-19 incidence among the general population in counties where K–12 schools offer in-person education (401.2 per 100,000) was similar to that in counties offering only virtual/online education (418.2 per 100,000).”

“Several U.S. school districts with routine surveillance of in-school cases report lower incidence among students than in the surrounding communities, and a recent study found no increase in COVID-19 hospitalization rates associated with in-person education,” the CDC report stated.

Stitt has called for all Oklahoma schools to reopen, noting that COVID-19 transmission in school settings is rare and that child-to-adult transmission is even rarer. The governor has also prioritized teachers in the COVID-19 vaccination process.

This week Stitt also announced that quarantine measures may be eased in schools that require students to wear masks. That policy change will prevent dozens or hundreds of healthy students from being quarantined for two weeks due to a single, potential in-school exposure.

School officials have reported that virtually all students previously placed in “close-contact” quarantine did not subsequently test positive during their quarantine, while associated disruption challenged districts’ ability to maintain academic service.

Republican members of the Legislature have endorsed Stitt’s proposal.

Those opposed to Stitt’s proposal include the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), which is the state’s largest teachers’ union, legislative Democrats, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

The OEA has steadfastly opposed in-person instruction, even after Stitt announced that teachers would be among the first to receive the vaccination for COVID-19, declaring that teachers will be put in danger.

The CDC report indicates that teachers are no more likely to contract COVID-19 working at school than conducting other routine activity in the community.

“Case data do not indicate that increases in incidence or percentage of positive test results among adults were preceded by increases among preschool- and school-aged children and adolescents,” the report stated.

In addition, Oklahoma schools have ample federal funding to purchase any needed equipment or services required to mitigate potential COVID-19 spread. Of $144 million provided last spring to Oklahoma schools through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, roughly $98 million remained unspent at the halfway mark of the 2020-2021 school year, according to officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and one state senator has remarked that schools in his district report having enough personal protective equipment and computers “to last us a decade.”

Oklahoma schools are also expected to receive another $660.7 million in federal funding for COVID-19 needs due to December approval of a second federal funding measure.

In addition to opposing less-cumbersome quarantine protocols in schools, Hofmeister has previously supported much more aggressive restrictions.

A plan promoted by Hofmeister prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year would have required school closures whenever a county’s COVID-19 rates topped 25 cases per 100,000 population. Had that plan been implemented, all but five of the more than 500 school districts in Oklahoma would be closed today and all students shifted to online or distance learning.

The CDC report stated that school-closures should not be part of routine virus-mitigation efforts.

“CDC recommends that K–12 schools be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed,” the report stated, “and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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