Thursday, May 21, 2020

CDC on Reopening School

As I'm sure you have seen by now, the Center for Disease Control has released guidelines for schools to use in reopening.  They are already generating a lot of discussion, mostly negative, but I think there are a few important points to keep in mind.

  1. Check The Source - If you are going to comment on the guidelines, please be sure you are getting them from the CDC directly.  They can be found at this link -  Please don't trust other posts on social media that are trying to summarize the guidelines.  For example, the blue background image below contains a lot of false information that is not in the CDC guidelines, such as presenting items as absolutes instead of a series of preferences. For example, regarding communal shared spaces, the CDC guidelines are not just to close them, but to close if possible, otherwise disinfect.  Likewise, it overstates the guidelines on sharing objects.  CDC recommendations are to limit sharing of objects that are difficult to clean or disinfect.  I know the image is supposed to be shorthand, but it really overstates the guidelines that have been promulgated.  Plus, it misspells guidelines right off the bat (guidlines).
  2. Remember, They Are Guidelines - The CDC has no authority to enforce these guidelines.  They are meant for public consumption and adaptation to the local environment.  This is even written in the guidelines themselves.  "Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.Emphasis mine.  The CDC's job is to present the most comprehensive guidelines possible that will have the greatest impact on preventing the spread of this disease.  It's just like when Dr. Fauci recommends social distancing measures until a vaccine is created.  It's what the scientists do.  That is their function.  They make the recommendations that will have the greatest impact.  It's up to the local governing bodies to determine how these guidelines actually get put to use.  I have no doubt some schools may actually implement all these steps.  Some schools may implement very few of them.  We do not know yet how that will play out.  Especially given the time factor.
  3. These Guidelines Are For Right Now - meaning they can and likely will change.  These are not the guidelines for reopening schools in the fall.  These are guidelines for opening schools now.  Again, from the very opening of the guidelines, "As some communities in the United States open K-12 schools, CDC offers the following considerations for ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19."  We're conditioned to thinking this is fall because we know the schools around us have largely closed for the remainder of the school year.  That is not what the CDC is considering.  They have to factor in schools that may be reopening.  Schools that need to hold summer school.  Schools that are considering opening in a couple of weeks to finish.  Etc, etc, etc.  The guidelines as promulgated are what would be recommended to open a school right now.  That guidance could look very different by August, based on what we will learn about this virus in two months time.  We are continuing to fill in gaps in our knowledge regarding Covid-19 and will continue to do so over the coming months.  
I know some schools are already indicating how things will look in the fall semester.  The University of Texas has indicated that students should plan to come and be on campus from August to November, but plan to have class virtually from after Thanksgiving on to finish the semester.  While it's good to plan, that's likely premature given how wide the gap between what we know and what we do not about this virus.

We're still learning and will continue to do so.  We will continue to adapt based on what we learn.  It's how we proceed.  School may look different from what we are used to, but it doesn't mean that the whole set of guidelines listed now will be needed come the fall.  I know everyone is anxious, I know everyone wants to get back to "normal," whatever that means.  And, we'll get there.  It may not be as fast as everyone wants, but we'll get there.

In the interim, let's keep calm.  Let's be cautious.  Let's be gracious. 

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