The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has quietly removed a statement from its website that stressed "the importance of reopening America's schools" even as they take steps to address the coronavirus pandemic.
The July statement had been attached to revised guidance from the agency that came after President Donald Trump criticized the CDC's guidance on COVID-19 and called for K-12 schools to reopen, threatening their funding if they remained in remote learning.
The change, first reported by The Hill Tuesday, comes after the CDC—and the Trump administration as a whole—have faced months of criticism for incomplete and inconsistent guidance to schools on how to respond to the public health crisis.
The now-withdrawn statement, which took a stronger tone in favor of reopening than the agency's other guidance documents, was reportedly inflluenced by White House discussions over the subject. It appears to have been removed on Oct. 28, according to cached versions of the website kept by the Internet Archive.
"Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low," says an archived copy of the now-removed document. "International studies that have assessed how readily COVID-19 spreads in schools also reveal low rates of transmission when community transmission is low. Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed."
The agency's decision to remove the document comes as virus rates surge in states around the country and as educators and epidemiologists debate the role schools play in spreading it in their communities. Some scientists have argued that schools have been too conservative about returning to in-person learning. Others say there is much that is unknown about COVID-19 and about children's ability to transmit it inside and outside of school buildings.
The link to the document now redirects to updated CDC resources for schools that include greater detail about transmission risk. Before the previous document was removed, CDC Director Robert Redfield told a congressional committee the agency planned to further update its guidance for schools, though he did not specify how. An agency spokesperson did not respond to questions about the change Tuesday.
The "comparatively low risk for hospitalization and death among children themselves must be contextualized to the risk posed to teachers, school administrators, and other staff in the school environment," the updated guidance says. "The risk of teachers, school administrators, and other staff in the school is expected to mirror that of other adults in the community if they contract COVID-19."
The website change apparently occurred before the Nov. 3 election. President-elect Joe Biden has promised a more centralized approach to his COVID-19 response, including more-objective criteria for school operating decisions. Even before that transition, the New York Times notes that the agency has been "hewing more closely to scientific evidence" in recent weeks. For example, it has stressed the value of masks, both for the wearer and for people they may interact with. That runs counter to Trump's downplaying of the importance of masks in public statements.
The CDC has made other notable changes to its guidance for schools in recent months. In September, it produced a color-coded chart that used various health indicators to demonstrate the level of risk for transmitting the virus within a given school building.
On Monday, the agency updated its guidance on quarantining students who may have been exposed to the virus, providing greater detail about how long a student should remain at home.
Last week, the CDC released new guidance for school nurses on issues like contact tracing and symptom screening.
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