The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week laid out its detailed, delayed road map for reopening schools, child-care facilities, restaurants and mass transit, weeks after COVID-weary states began opening on their own terms.
The CDC cautioned that some institutions should stay closed for now and said reopening should be guided by coronavirus transmission rates.
For schools, the CDC recommended a raft of social distancing policies: desks at least six feet apart and facing the same direction, lunch in classrooms, staggered arrival times, cloth masks for staff and daily temperature screenings for everyone.
It advised that buses leave every other row empty, bars add sneeze guards and child-care centers limit sharing of art supplies.
The 60-page guidance document was posted on the CDC website over the weekend without fanfare after weeks of delay and an internal debate over whether the guidelines were too restrictive.
The White House initially shelved the recommendations, saying they were “overly specific.” Last week, the administration released six brief checklists for decision-makers on various areas of daily life. But even that came after many states had begun to lift restrictions.
“Late is better than never,” said Tara Kirk Sell at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “People are still hungry for this information.”
Still, the guidelines arrive amid mixed messages from authorities over how and how quickly to reopen the life of the nation.
President Trump and some governors have pushed for fast reopening, while federal health experts and other governors have urged caution.
The guidance for schools comes as administrators consider whether they will need to continue remote learning into the fall. Many camps have already said they will operate remotely or not at all this summer, but others have been waiting to make a decision until they get more information.
The CDC recommends that schools remain closed in step one, which it does not define, and that camps be restricted to children of essential workers and to those who live in the local area.
In “step two,” the document recommends they be allowed to operate with “enhanced social distancing” measures.
For schools, that includes mandating face coverings for staff and encouraging them for students, particularly older students, “if feasible.” Coverings become essential, the CDC says, when physical distancing is not possible.
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It also offers a range of social distancing ideas, mostly practices already being considered by districts.
The agency says schools must have adequate supplies for proper hygiene, including soap, hand sanitizer and no-touch trash cans. Surfaces and school buses should be cleaned and disinfected daily, and windows and doors should be open to help air circulate.
It also suggests a long list of ideas to try to keep students and campers apart. That includes keeping the same group of children together with the same staff, something more easily implemented with younger children; limiting gatherings and extracurricular activities; and closing communal spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds.
And it recommends daily health checks, including temperature screenings of staff and students if feasible.
The document does not mention a hybrid model for schooling that would combine in-person and online education, though many districts are considering that.
For child-care centers, the CDC recommends screening children and staff on arrival “if possible” for potential symptoms, getting rid of plush toys and other soft items that are difficult to sanitize and limiting mixing among groups.