RALEIGH — Some of the larger school districts in North Carolina, who are backpedaling on reopening schools to full-time in-person instruction, appear not to be following the “science and data” and the repeated messages from national experts on keeping schools open.
In October, the CDC released data showing that children can spread the virus within schools, but that children ages 10 and under were less likely to do so. The CDC did not find a link between schools reopening and the rise this fall in positive tests. That guidance has not shifted in the past two months.
In agreement with the CDC, a report by UNICEF has shown that schools are not driving infection rates and that child-to-child transmission in school was “uncommon and not the primary cause.” UNICEF looked at 191 countries, highlighting the disruption that canceling classes was having on health, mental health and food services involving students.
As recently as Nov. 29, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director and White House COVID-19 advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci urged decision makers to “close the bars and keep the schools open.”
“If you look at the data, the spread among children and from children is not very big at all, not like one would have suspected,” said Fauci. “So, let’s try to get the kids back and try to mitigate the things that maintain and push the kind of community spread we are trying to avoid.”
Fauci went on to say the “default position should be to try as best as possible, within reason, to keep the children in school, to get them back to school.”
Guilford County Schools has announced that following the Thanksgiving holiday week, they are reverting back to Plan C, which is complete remote instruction. One reason given was community-spread metrics.
In the state’s largest district, Wake County Public Schools, only elementary and special education students will go back full-time in the second semester. In several meetings, the Wake County School Board has indicated they also have used county-level COVID-19 metrics as a reference.
The second semester plan in Wake County would include fourth and fifth graders who are currently forced to do weekly cohort rotations that allows for one week at school and two weeks remote instruction. All middle and high schools will still do three-week cohort rotations in the second semester until further notice.
At a Nov. 19 COVID briefing at the White House, CDC Director Robert Redfield restated that children should remain in school. Redfield warned against having an emotional response of saying “lets close the schools.”
Redfield’s remarks came on the heels of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo closing New York City Schools again. At the time Cuomo made his announcement, community rate in New York City was 3% but there was less than a .24% infection rate for school staff and only a .13% rate for students. Earlier in November, Cuomo had claimed during a press conference that “schools are not the problem” and in an MSNBC interview, he said that “we are not seeing spread in schools.”
“Last spring, CDC did not recommend school closures nor did we recommend their closures today,” said Redfield. “Today, there is extensive data that we have gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly.”
Redfield stressed that infections identified in the schools were not acquired in schools, but rather “acquired in the community and the household.” He reiterated that it’s “not intra-school transmission” that is causing the spread of COVID-19.”
“The truth is, for kids K-12, the safest place they can be, from our perspective, is to remain in school,” said Redfield. “K-12 schools and really our institutes of higher learning, really are not where we are having our challenges.”
At a recent November COVID briefing, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen had said that K-12 schools were not spreading the virus, but colleges and college students were.
Additionally, at a meeting on Nov. 5, officials with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told N.C. State Board of Education they’ve found “no evidence” that public school reopenings have contributed to the state’s recent rise in positive tests. State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson told the board, “we are not seeing schools as a big driver of cases,” and children “have relatively low rates of infection and are not driving our increases.”