Updated CDC School Guidance Provides Layered Protective Approach That Can Be Adapted to Meet Community Needs


During the past year and a half, navigating education for our nation’s children in the midst of the largest epidemic in 100 years has been a topic of much discussion—and debate.

In my view, what’s essential is returning children to in-person learning, as not doing so will most definitely have negative effects on children’s mental health as well as leave many further behind in their educational progression. Of course, a return to in-person learning must be balanced with putting in place health protections to reduce the spread of COVID-19, thus protecting children and teachers, their families and the communities in which they live.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Kindergarten-12 Schools released today provides a framework for schools to achieve this purpose.

As a former state health officer and CDC leader, I know it is extremely difficult to provide guidance that can be used uniformly throughout the entire nation. So, those looking for guidance that provides a detailed, step-by-step checklist that can be applied the same way in every community will not find that kind of direction. That’s because each community is different, with potentially different local ordinances, differing vaccination coverage and varying levels of COVID-19 transmission.

Today, vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and promoting vaccination for those eligible—students, teachers and staff—can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities, including sports.

The trouble is that many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Therefore, CDC’s updated guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies to protect those who are not fully vaccinated. This layering includes a combination of protective actions, such as screening and testing, mask-wearing, ventilation, hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick and more.

As conditions change, schools should work closely with local health officials to monitor community transmission, vaccine coverage, screening testing and outbreaks to make decisions on prevention strategies. When appropriate, strategies should be removed one at a time and any developments should be monitored before other adjustments are made.

While remote learning has been essential in ensuring continuity in education for those across the educational spectrum, a key priority after more than a year of remote learning is a return to in-person learning. CDC’s updates—importantly—provide schools, teachers and staff with guidance that can help meet this goal.

Dr. Judy Monroe
Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.