The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to release its official guidelines for reopening U.S. schools on Friday, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
The CDC first released a report last month that highlighted data on reopening schools safely, but they’ve yet to release official recommendations. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is now expected to present the new guidelines on Friday.
"We are eager to hear about the clear, science-based guidelines for opening schools and how we can do that safely and how we can keep them open," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing Thursday.
President Biden has a goal of reopening the majority of schools in his first 100 days in office, but the administration faced criticism this week after officials defined that goal to mean that just over than half of schools should hold in-person learning at least one day per week.
Psaki also noted Thursday that the president ultimately wants schools to reopen five days per week and signaled that the CDC guidelines are the next step.
“I can assure any parent listening that his objective, his commitment is to ensuring schools are open five days a week,” Psaki said.
On Wednesday, she defended an initial goal of one day of in-person learning in most schools. Many are already operating on a hybrid model and holding at least some in-person learning, and Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), were quick to scoff at the modest goal set by the administration.
In the conversation around reopening schools, the CDC has pointed to data from studies done in a handful of school districts around the country, which showed that COVID-19 transmission within schools was very rare.
"There will always be a reason to keep schools closed," said Dr. Daniel Benjamin of Duke University School of Medicine, who co-leads a program with North Carolina schools that was cited by the CDC. "Ultimately, people have a choice. And what our position has been is: Use the public mitigation strategies. Here’s what to do."
In the North Carolina study, Dr. Benjamin and his colleagues looked at 11 school districts that included 90,000 students and staff. They reported 32 in-school infections and no cases of student-to-staff transmission.
But Dr. Benjamin also stressed the need for mask wearing, hand washing, distancing and another key element: staff documentation of compliance in order to constantly improve measures.
Still, teachers unions around the country have called for vaccinations for teachers before returning to school. About half of states have opened vaccines to teachers, but the majority of educators have not had access to a shot.
Last week, the CDC director said that vaccinations for teachers were not a “prerequisite” for reopening, citing the data the agency recently published.
That idea has been backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fervent supporter of reopening schools.
"An administration that puts facts and science first would be conducting a full court press to open schools," McConnell said on the Senate floor last week.
Another sticking point is additional funding for school resources, such as updated ventilation systems, masks and access to testing.
Both teachers and the Biden administration have called more funding a necessary element of reopening, and it’s included in the president’s American Rescue Plan, which the administration hopes to pass in early March.