On February 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidance that provides updated guidance for state and local governments, schools, staff and parents on how to safely reopen schools. In collaboration with the CDC, the Department of Education released a handbook that details best practices for schools to maintain low COVID-19 transmission rates. With schools around the country closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year, unemployment and food insecurity have risen to record levels and inequities in virtual learning have emerged. Counties urge our federal partners to provide additional fund so that counties and local schools systems can implement these recommendations and protect our residents.
The CDC guidance provides five operational strategies to safely reopen schools and prevent transmission of COVID-19 in schools and in the broader community:
- Consistent implementation of layered mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools (universal mask requirements, social distancing, handwashing, cleaning facilities and contact tracing)
- Indicators of community transmission to reflect level of community risk
- Phased mitigation and learning modes based on levels of community transmission
- Testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to limit transmission and outbreaks
- Vaccination for teachers and school staff, and in communities, as soon as supply allows
Although the CDC maintains that layered mitigation strategies, evaluation of community transmission levels and phased mitigation based on transmission rates are the most important to safely reopen schools, many other precautions, such as vaccinations for teachers, updated ventilation systems and weekly COVID testing, can be implemented to further ensure low transmission rates of the virus. The Department of Education handbook further offers additional tools for schools and teachers, but also provides strategies universal mask implementation, examples of classroom social distancing and much more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the existing inequities within our communities in the forms of broadband access, reliable child care, quality of virtual education and the disproportionate harm that COVID-19 has caused to historically marginalized groups. While we applaud our federal partners for the concise guidance that aims to protect our residents and ensure equitable implementation across the country, we implore Congress to pass legislation similar to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan so that federal recommendations can be correctly and fairly implemented. Counties administer and fund an array of social programs that help our residents, including contributing local dollars to K-12 education in at least 5 states.
NACo will continue to monitor and report on federal guidance to safely reopen schools.
- NACo Analysis: President Biden’s COVID-19 Rescue Plan
- Key Considerations for Counties in Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Plans
- NACo Blog: Biden administration releases national COVID-19 strategy
- NACo Blog: Biden administration unveils national vaccine strategy
- NACo Blog: President Biden signs health-related COVID-19 executive actions