ORLANDO, Fla. – There is increasing data that suggests that schools can reopen amid the ongoing pandemic without vaccinating school staff, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday during a White House COVID-19 briefing.
Educational leaders have been pushing for teachers and school staff to be included in the next priority vaccine group after health care workers and long-term care facilities.
“There is no group of essential personnel that is required to sit in a room with 180 kids in a 20-by-20 foot room. So the same way we prioritize healthcare personnel we call our teachers essential personnel,” Volusia County School Board member Ruben Colon said.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky told reporters teachers are included in the 1B vaccine category which includes essential workers.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely,” Walensky said.
A recently released CDC study suggests that with proper safety protocols, there’s relatively little risk of a serious outbreak.
For the study, the CDC looked at data from 17 K-12 schools in rural Wisconsin from the end of August 2020 to the end of November 2020. At those schools, student mask-wearing was high, and the rate of COVID-19 within the schools was lower than in the county overall.
The research suggests that COVID-19 doesn’t spread as widely in schools that are following safety guidelines on masks and social distancing as it does outside of schools.
The researchers said this suggests that with masks, social distancing and keeping students in smaller, consistent groups, the risk of an outbreak is significantly reduced.
“Now that the dust has settled we have asked families to reevaluate whether their students have been successful and we’re asking that they stick to a decision,” Colon said.
Walensky said the CDC continues to implement criteria from the COVID-19 vaccine advisory committee along with following state and local guidelines to get vaccines out.
“Vaccination of teachers is not a pre-requisite for reopening schools,” Walensky said.
While schools in Florida reopened in August for in-person learning, not all states have opened schools to students since the pandemic first arrived in the U.S.
Florida’ largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, has requested Gov. Ron DeSantis include educators in the next priority group. Currently, Florida is vaccinating health care workers, long-term care facilities, people 65 and older along with high-risk individuals under 65.
“Whether it’s recommended as a prerequisite or not, the essential workers in our public schools deserve the protection that the vaccines can provide,” Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in a statement Wednesday. “Before another day passes, Florida’s teachers and school support staff, many of whom are at work on our campuses right now, should be given priority for getting the vaccine. That priority should not be limited to those 65 and older. It should be extended to all the people working with students.”