The White House says teachers are essential workers—here's what it means

Teachers return to classrooms after possible exposure to COVID-19 as long as they're asymptomatic.

The White House says teachers are essential workers—here's what it means
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Teachers are essential to many families and now, it's official—but some teachers are concerned about what that means.

The White House issued new guidance designating teachers as essential workers, which would allow them to return to classrooms after possible exposure to COVID-19 as long as they're asymptomatic.

The new policy—which now labels teachers "critical infrastructure employees" like doctors and law enforcement—is part of the administration's push to reopen schools for in-person instruction. Though the nonbinding guidance doesn't force teachers into the classroom if they've been exposed, it also doesn't prevent them from going back—nor does it require that they quarantine for any amount of time after exposure, according to the Associated Press.


"What that is, is when you're declared an essential it means you're going to be prioritized for things like PPE and support," Vice President Mike Pence told Fox Business on Friday. "But we want to get our kids back to school but we also want our teachers to know that we're going to make the resources available so that their schools can be a safe environment."

An anonymous source familiar with the administration's decision told CNN that the White House wanted to "convey how seriously they believe the schools question should be taken" but also "try to stabilize the teaching workforce and streamline guidance at a time of confusion."

President Trump has also continued to push for schools to reopen while falsely claiming that children don't easily catch or spread the virus. A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association found that 100,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July alone—a 40% increase in the number of child cases, NBC reported.

Schools that have reopened have already had trouble controlling the spread of the virus, even with safety measures like screening. That's largely because the CDC estimates that 40% of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic. As a result, putting exposed teachers who could be asymptomatic back in classrooms without quarantining them could make the problem even worse, according to the Associated Press.

Over the last few weeks, more than 600 schools in 40 states have reported coronavirus cases, according to Fatherly. Many of those schools have since had to quarantine groups of students and teachers.

As schools have started reopening, teachers have pushed back. On Aug. 3, Teachers protested in more than 35 school districts across the United States, demanding that in-person instruction be canceled until districts can institute safety protocols and schools are better staffed, Aljazeera reported.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told CNN that a designation of "essential" won't protect teachers or students.

"If the President really saw us as essential, he'd act like it," Weingarten said. "Teachers are and always have been essential workers—but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom. Rather than fund these protections, create a plan and guidance for how to ensure that school buildings can reopen safely, and follow the science."

Jo Yurcaba is a writer and editor living in central North Carolina. They cover women's health, LGBTQ+ rights, and politics. When they're not writing, they're usually riding horses or eating lots of southern food.
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