Other scientists say the guidelines may not go far enough. There’s not clear evidence that high levels of community transmission make in-person schooling riskier, said Dr. Elissa Perkins, the director of emergency medicine infectious disease management at Boston University School of Medicine, who co-authored the Massachusetts study.
“I applaud the move to get elementary schools back in person regardless of community transmission.” she said. “And I also understand that there is some hesitancy about applying that to middle and high school students, although I’m not sure that it is fully in keeping with the evidence that we’ve seen to date.”
While the majority of school buildings are currently open at least partially, the six-foot rule has prevented many from shifting to full-time, in-person schedules.
In liberal states and districts where teachers’ unions have collective bargaining power, the new C.D.C. guidance may strengthen the negotiating position of district officials seeking to return students to more normal, in-person schedules.
But many issues remain contentious and unresolved. Although the C.D.C. is continuing to recommend six feet of distance when children are eating, the fact that students need to remove their masks at lunch has raised concerns for educators and their unions.
It is not unusual, across the country, for schools to remain closed one day per week — typically Wednesdays — for what is sometimes described as a day of “deep cleaning.” Yet many experts have emphasized that because the coronavirus is spread through the air, surface disinfection is less important than masking and ventilation.
The days out of school are used by many teachers to prepare lessons and strategies for what remains a new and challenging mode of instruction, in which some students are in classrooms while others remain at home. Indeed, there is still a significant minority of parents, many of them Black, Hispanic and Asian, who are hesitant to return their children to schools during the pandemic.
C.D.C. officials relied on the findings of several other new studies about transmission in schools to rewrite their guidelines. The studies, published Friday, examined viral transmission in schools in Florida, St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., and Salt Lake County, Utah. The findings varied, but all papers emphasized the critical role that universal mask-wearing plays in curbing school-associated infections.