In-person learning now considered ‘high risk’ by CDC

Change in guideline quietly made on agency website 

THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL and Prevention quietly removed controversial guidelines from its website promoting in-person learning in schools, and instead is now listing it as “high risk.

The disputed guidance was composed of documents written by political appointees outside of the agency. One of the documents stated that children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults and that children are unlikely to be major spreaders of the virus, according to The Hill. The CDC removed the guidance from its website without public announcement some time in late October.

“Some of the prior content was outdated and as new scientific information has emerged the site has been updated to reflect current knowledge about COVID-19 and schools,” a spokesperson told the news outlet.

Now the website says “the body of evidence is growing that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and contrary to early reports might play a role in transmission,” and lists in-person learning as high risk.

The news comes just as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association released a report this week that found that the coronavirus is infecting children now more than ever. As of November 12, over 1 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. Over the two-weeks period between October 29 and November 12 there was a 22 percent increase in child COVID-19 cases, or 185,829 new cases, nationwide. In Massachusetts, the total is 15,562 cases among children as of November 12, or 9.4 percent of total cases.

State leaders, who have been pushing for a return to in-person learning, are maintaining their position. At a Wednesday press conference, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said the state is relying on medical expertise in encouraging school reopenings, but acknowledged the shifts in CDC guidance. “There’s been some back and forth on what they put out,” he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker in early November released new metrics that downgraded the risk of COVID-19 in most communities and issued new guidance suggesting in-person instruction is safe even in hot-spot areas. At the time, 23 percent of school districts were fully remote, but he urged them to reopen in-person, due to the fact that there had been no outbreaks of COVID-19 in public schools so far. 

The state is focusing on identifying COVID-19 infections in schools as they remain open in-person before outbreaks happen. This week, state officials said they are rolling out a rapid testing program in early December for 134 school districts for students who show symptoms of the virus. The role the federal Abbott BinaxNOW testing program will play has been debated among school officials — some say the state needs to go further to conduct weekly surveillance testing of asymptomatic students and staff.  

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, and Dr. Mary Beth Miotto, vice president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, agreed reopening in-person is not a one-size-fits all approach on this week’s Codcast. Koocher voiced concern about the rapid increase the state is seeing in cases. 

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“It looks like we could be back to where we were in May and June, and that’s a bit frightening. And I think that even changes the discussion from one we would have had last Friday,” Koocher said. 

Miotto backed Baker the day the new guidance was issued, saying it’s safe to reopen schools.