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CDC Official Discusses Vaccinations and Reopening Schools

  • “It’s not the case that we're no longer recomm­ending physical distancing as a prevention strategy,” Greta Massetti of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told members of the Council of the Great City Schools’ at its recent virtual Legislative/Policy Conference.

    Massetti is chief of the CDC’s Field Epidemiology and Prevention Branch and leads all the work the agency is doing in developing, releasing and updating COVID-19 prevention guidance for community settings, including K-12 schools. Her address to urban educators followed the CDC’s announcement of a major update of its guidance for preventing COVID-19 transmissions in schools, which now recommends students remain at least three feet apart in classrooms instead of the previously recommended six feet.

    According to Massetti, the new guidance from the CDC still calls for schools to maintain physical distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We're just kind of adjusting how we define it, so our new recommendations suggest that in classrooms students can sit less than six feet apart.”  Greta Massetti

    The CDC still urges schools to maintain six feet between teachers and students, and also between teachers and other educators to ensure that they are less likely to be exposed to the coronavirus.

    “We have heard in a lot of discussions with our education stakeholders in schools that six feet for teachers is more feasible and does not preclude the ability to do full, in-person instruction,” said Massetti.

    She discussed the issue of COVID-19 transmission in school sports and told conferees that the agency is currently conducting studies to assess the value in using screening testing to facilitate sports participation.

    “It’s not a strong recommendation where we're saying the only way to do sports is by doing testing,” acknowledged Massetti. “We think it is potentially a prudent intervention, but we're really trying to get additional studies underway to assess, basically, what kind of scheduled screening testing will work best and what types of information does it yield.”

    Responding to a question on when a vaccine might be available for young children, Massetti pointed out that a vaccine has been approved for children 16 and older, and several pharmaceutical companies have started vaccine trials for kids younger than 16. However, she also noted that the CDC does not anticipate having the results of those trials until later in the summer and that the agency continues to recommend that schools use mitigation strategies such as wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    Alaska’s Anchorage School District has been operating vaccine clinics in the community, and school board member Elisa Vakalis asked why schools have not been more broadly used as vaccination sites in urban communities, particularly with issues of equity a national concern. Greta Masetti and Panel

    Massetti noted that there has been a tremendous uptake of vaccination among educators, and that in every jurisdiction in the nation teachers can get vaccinated. She said that on the issue of vaccines for the wider community, part of the challenge is making the vaccine available and then bringing it to people; and that is where the CDC wants to explore more opportunities.

    “If you are a representative of the school system, board of education, a school superintendent, or if you have any leadership role in education, we strongly encourage you to reach out to your public health partners and identify ways to offer vaccination clinics at a district site,” urged Massetti.

    Asked how confident she is that schools will be open in the fall, Massetti noted that some schools have been open for a long time and have been operating successfully. She said schools that are still doing full virtual instruction are starting to take baby steps in the direction of reopening. She said she believes in the fall the nation will have likely reached a fairly significant level of herd immunity and vaccination.

    “Next school year, I would strongly encourage schools to find their pathway towards reopening,” Massetti told the conference.