In a new paper, researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that in the past year, there was "little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission."
That was why all K-12 public schools closed last March. We were at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic and at the time, officials believed that all public gatherings, including classrooms, posed a risk to public health.
The scientists from the CDC say with the benefit of time, we have learned that classroom gatherings are not as dangerous as we first feared.
They cited 11 school systems in North Carolina, serving more than 90,000 students and staff, as an example. During a nine-week period this fall, scientists found just 32 infections acquired in school, compared to 773 cases of students and staff infected outside of school. There were no cases of student-to-staff transmission.
Another study found that among 17 schools in rural Wisconsin, COVID-19 rates were actually lower for students and staff than in the surrounding communities. Officials believe school policies requiring masks to be worn were likely responsible for the low infection rates.
The researchers argue that this data ultimately supports reopening schools, provided students continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Schools should also continue using hybrid learning to help limit how many students are in a building at one time.
The report did acknowledge that there have been COVID-19 outbreaks associated with school athletic events. For example, a wrestling tournament held in December 2020 has been linked to dozens of cases of COVID-19 and one death.
The researchers say that while they do recommend a return to in-person learning, schools should limit activities that continue to increase the risk of transmission, like indoor sports competitions.
To further make schools safer, researchers suggest introducing restrictions in wider community gathering spots, like indoor restaurants, bars and gyms.
The rationale is this: Studies have shown that these gathering locales have seen some of the biggest increases in COVID-19 infections upon reopening. If we can curb the transmission of the virus in the larger community, we can make it less risky for our kids to go to school.
"Some of these decisions may be difficult," the scientists admitted.
Ultimately, it's about finding a path forward for our kids' safety and education.
What should you take from this report, mama?
We've learned that students can safely return to schools, with proper precautions.
Make sure your family continues wearing masks. Remind your kids about the importance of social distancing when around classmates. It's hard but it works.If you're wondering if schools will ever reopen on a full-time basis, know that health experts are pouring over all the data we've collected so far. They're working on plans to get your kids back to school-safely.