CDC revises school reopening guidance, recommends phases depending on community spread

As many schools are now moving students back into the classroom, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance on how to safely proceed.

They're asking districts to enforce physical distancing, conduct contact tracing, enforce mask wearing and make sure the schools are kept clean. They are not requiring schools to go back to full time in-person learning, but at this point, they say it can be done safely.

Executive Director of the Arizona Public Health Association, Will Humble, says he thinks these guidelines are pretty straight forward.

"It was really well thought out. It was pretty clear."

The CDC also said that there is "strong evidence" that schools can indeed reopen safely, although they are not mandating any schools to move to all in-person learning.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

Humble says a smooth transition to in-person learning is dependent on the school districts, providing that they follow these guidelines.

"It's not about what's written down. It comes to what is done and that leadership really comes from principals and the superintendents."

Executive Director for the Arizona School Administrators, Mark Joraanstad, says that there are a couple of guidelines that will be harder than others to organize and enforce. Contact tracing for one, is time consuming, and then there is physical distancing.

"To do physical distancing, well, if you are transporting a lot of kids on buses, that can become challenging unless you stagger the bus routes, which means you are staggering the school hours as well."

While it of course will take time, Joraanstad says they are committed to making this work and getting hundreds of students back in the classroom, but it will also take cooperation from the students, their family members and the community.

"It takes the entire community acting in concert to keep schools open safely and effectively."

Statement from Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman:

"Today’s updated guidance from the CDC affirms the mitigation efforts that Arizona’s public schools have implemented with public health officials' support. CDC research emphasizes that schools, particularly elementary schools, can safely reopen for in-person instruction by strictly following evidence-based mitigation strategies. Additionally, they underscored the importance of adopting and consistently implementing actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 both in schools and in the community, stressing the role each play in school reopening plans. I am pleased to see actionable, data-driven guidelines to help us achieve the goal of in-person learning for all students.  We look forward to working with Arizona’s public schools to plan and implement these new guidelines."

Online: CDC's Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation

CDC: Phased reopening with proper mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing

The CDC updated their strategies on Feb. 12 for reopening schools across the country.

Some of those strategies include physical distancing and contact tracing. 

The guidelines come as school districts continue to debate over when it will be best to send children back to the classroom.

The agency recommends a phased reopening, with proper mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing.

"All mitigation strategies provide some level of protection, but when implemented together, or layered, they provide the greatest level of protection," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Reopening options for schools are divided into four zones. Schools with lower or moderate transmission rates are encouraged to reopen for in-person learning with masks and social distancing. While schools in areas with substantial transmission can follow a hybrid model.

Schools in harder hit areas can resume in-person learning with reduced attendance, if they routinely test students and staff.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz spoke about his state's first in the nation testing program, which allows for bi-weekly testing clinics at schools.

"We're asking especially for our secondary students to start getting tested."

President Joe Biden is making a return to in-person learning a top priority. In December, he promised to open most kindergarten through 8th grade schools during his first 100 days in office.

Earlier this week, the White House said at least one day a week of in-person learning would meet that goal. But that timeline has faced some obstacles as some school districts and teacher unions remain at odds over how to open up safely.

"If working parents can't go to work because their kids are at home, that affects the daily lives of millions and millions of Americans," said Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley on FOX News Channel's "America's Newsroom" program.

The CDC is also telling schools that vaccinations are not a condition for reopening. That applies to teachers and students.

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic: