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Schools can reopen safely with precautions, CDC says

In an article published Tuesday, researchers wrote that wearing masks and maintaining social distance are effective at limiting transmission of the coronavirus in schools, but indoor sporting events can promote spread and should be diminished.

A student plays with clay at Jordan Community Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Friday morning, Jan. 15, 2021.
A student plays with clay at Jordan Community Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Friday morning, Jan. 15, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times, Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Evidence from the U.S. and other countries indicates schools can operate safely with precautions, and they should open for in-person instruction as soon as possible, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

In an article published Tuesday in JAMA Network, the researchers wrote that wearing masks and maintaining social distance have proven effective at limiting transmission of the coronavirus in schools, but activities like indoor sporting athletics can promote spread and should be diminished.

The scientists also said instituting measures to contain the virus in the community — such as restricting indoor dining, bars and gyms — would also help make school reopenings safer.

“The preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring,” the three researchers wrote. “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

Margaret Honein, a member of the C.D.C.’s Covid-19 emergency response team and the first author of the article, told the New York Times she was confident of the findings even with the discovery of contagious new variants of the virus.

“Back in August and September, we did not have a lot of data on whether or not we would see the same sort of rapid spread in schools that we had seen in other high-density work sites or residential sites,” Honein said, like nursing homes. “But there is accumulating data now that with high face mask compliance, and distancing and cohorting of students to minimize the total number of contacts, we can minimize the amount of transmission in schools.”