“The bare fact that the CDC chose to revise its initial guidance so soon after incurring the displeasure of Donald Trump should tell Americans how much faith they can continue to put into this agency………As a result, more Americans, and specifically American children, are going to be put at risk.”
Daily Kos: Communityby Dartagnan,
In an act of politically motivated malpractice, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) late Thursday evening issued new, revised guidelines for reopening America’s schools amid a pandemic, with heavy emphasis on returning to in-person learning, willful encouragement to disregard isolated instances of infection within the schools, and deliberately misleading and incomplete information regarding transmission rates of the novel coronavirus among children. According to the Washington Post, portions of these guidelines were actually written by Trump administration officials.
Some of the guidance was written by White House officials rather than experts at the CDC, people familiar with the process said.
The agency’s action directly contravenes many of the agency’s prior guidelines issued before the intervention of Donald Trump, who, seeing his political fortunes fading, has vehemently pushed for the reopening of schools as a last-ditch effort to boost a collapsing American economy and his reelection prospects. Trump attacked the CDC earlier this month for its strict and demanding regulations on school reopenings at that time, and both he and Vice President Mike Pence vowed to pressure the CDC to relax them.
As reported by The Hill, we can now see the results of that political pressure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late Thursday released new guidelines with a heavy focus on reopening schools in the fall, saying children are less likely to experience severe symptoms or spread the virus in schools.
According to the CDC, there are few reports of children being the driving force of transmission within families. It said that as of July 17, children and adolescents account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.
The guidelines recommend against screening all students for coronavirus symptoms because children experiencing COVID-19 symptoms may be sick with something else and should not be in school if they are experiencing symptoms at all.
These revised guidelines now emphasize the adverse developmental effects on children if schools are not reopened (physically) as fully as possible. This is in line with recommendations previously issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stressing developmental setbacks, which were widely touted by proponents of full reopenings. It appears to ignore the fact that those same AAP recommendations were later walked back by that organization as the deadly safety implications of COVID-19 infections in our public schools came into sharper focus.
Conversely, the potentially adverse effects of death and lifelong sickness appear to be given short shrift by the CDC’s rosy new guidance. For comparison purposes, here are some of the CDC’s prior guidelines, issued before the agency bowed to political pressure from the Trump administration, and handed his minions the red pen.
The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:
- Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
- More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
- Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
Schools may consider implementing several strategies to encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Staying Home when Appropriate
- Recognize Signs and Symptoms
- If feasible, conduct daily health checks (e.g., temperature screening and/or or symptom checking) of staff and students.
Notably, in addition to specific instructions regarding shutting schools down if an infected child is identified, the original guidelines recommended conducting daily health checks of each student. Now, however, the guidance has changed.
CDC does not currently recommend universal symptom screenings (screening all students grades K-12) be conducted by schools.
The CDC justifies its abandonment of individual screening—first with the excuse that screening will not identify asymptomatic individuals, and secondly, by asserting that screening may identify children with similar respiratory illnesses or flu, but not COVID-19. The CDC’s website contains several paragraphs of plaintive justifications for this abrupt policy reversal, but curiously ignores the fact that asymptomatic children could easily be identified, had the federal government provided this country with adequate testing to begin with. So, in that respect, the CDC is hampered in justifying its new malfeasance by Trump’s own malignant disregard.
What the CDC doesn’t explain is why the risk of “missing” asymptomatic cases is worse than the potential to identify symptomatic ones. Nor does the CDC explain how the likelihood of so many “asymptomatic” individual children—enough to justify their “non-screening” position—can be reconciled with the contention (at odds with the latest research as well as the experience of those countries that have fully reopened schools) that children are not likely to carry, catch, and transmit the virus.
As far as the fact that screening can identify non-COVID viruses, the appropriate rejoinder would seem to be, “So what?” In the middle of the deadliest pandemic in over a century, with cases spiraling out of control and the highest death total in the world, we’re supposed to be concerned about misidentifying a child who may have the flu? If a child is infected with the flu, does the CDC now believe that is something that should not be prevented? Does the CDC condone that child infecting others? Or is the whole policy, in fact, geared to prevent the shutdowns that are almost certain to occur when COVID-19-infected children are discovered?
In fact, a good deal of the CDC’s new “guidelines” appear to be written (perversely) with a view toward discouraging such screening, by inordinately emphasizing the difficulties involved.
- If symptom screenings are implemented by the school, are there enough staff who are sufficiently trained in screening procedures as well as in putting on and taking off personal protective equipment (PPE)?
- How will results of screening be verified (e.g., temperatures taken improperly can lead a falsely elevated temperature to be interpreted as a fever)?
- Is proper equipment (e.g., thermometers, PPE) available in sufficient quantities?
- How will proper cleaning of the screening area and equipment be ensured?
- Will processes be in place to ensure screeners and students maintain safe distance during screening?
- If symptom screenings are conducted by parents, guardians, or caregivers, will results be reported and verified?
- Will processes be used to follow-up if parents, guardians, or caregivers do not report screening results?
- What training for teachers and other school personnel will be provided regarding how to have conversations with parents about conducting home symptom screening? What protections will be included for staff who are more susceptible to COVID-19?
Reading those dire admonitions against screening, one might be forgiven for thinking that the CDC is adopting a strategy of ignoring the pandemic—or perhaps, simply internalizing Trump’s philosophy that “less testing equals less cases.” In any case, the lack of adequate testing seems to be a factor the CDC is now simply tiptoeing around. In actual fact, it appears that most of these guidelines would not have to be promulgated at all if the nation had provided for adequate testing at the outset of this pandemic.
As for what schools are supposed to do if a single child comes to class bearing the COVID-19 virus, the CDC’s “advice” appears to assume a tremendous degree of statistical acumen among school administrators.
A single case of COVID-19 in a school isn’t a reason to close an entire school, the document said. If transmission rates for the virus are higher than in the surrounding community, or the school itself is the source of an outbreak, administrators should work with local health officials to determine if a temporary closure is necessary.
Previous CDC recommendations had suggested dismissing school for at least two to five days after an infected person is in the building.
The blandly reassuring “guidance” regarding the likely degree of transmission by children ignores the most recent research indicating that older children (ages 10-19) transmit the virus as easily as adults do. It also ignores the glaring fact that the reason transmission stats between children and adults are low is largely due to the fact that schools have been closed since March, thus preventing children from becoming infected (and thereby passing it on to their parents and grandparents). Since small children do not usually frequent bars or beach parties, it seems logical that, up to this point, adults have been the primary spreaders of the disease—though the CDC apparently intends to remedy that situation.
The bare fact that the CDC chose to revise its initial guidance so soon after incurring the displeasure of Donald Trump should tell Americans how much faith they can continue to put into this agency. But the saddest fact is that, with these politically biased and misleading guidelines, many school districts, particularly those controlled by Republicans, will use them as a cudgel to attempt to force schools to physically reopen as much as possible.
As a result, more Americans, and specifically American children, are going to be put at risk.
Reactions on Twitter are coming in, and unsurprisingly, they are falling largely along party lines, confirming that the CDC has effectively politicized the health of our children.
This politicization of public health, similar to the divide surrounding mask-wearing, is exactly what the CDC knew would happen—and not coincidentally, exactly what Trump wanted.