U.S. schools should only reopen with social distancing as benchmarks met: CDC

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. schools shuttered by the coronavirus should pursue a carefully phased reopening only after public health benchmarks are met, and summer camps should be limited largely only to children from the immediate area, federal guidance recommends.

The guidelines, released late on Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), come from a set of suggestions for specific settings, including restaurants, mass transit systems and employers with workers at high risk.

President Donald Trump has said the nation needs to move forward with lifting restrictions meant to curb the pandemic in order to limit damage to an economy suffering its worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Nearly all 50 states have allowed some businesses to reopen, with some moving before meeting federal guidelines. Political fissures have erupted between Americans chafing under restrictions states have put in place and others who argue for pursuing a cautious path toward reopening.

Schools are poised to become a particular political battleground. Children are less likely to suffer from severe complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, than older adults, but public health experts say they can spread it to older and frailer family members.

States have also reported cases of a sometimes fatal inflammatory syndrome in children that is believed to be linked to the coronavirus.

In its guidelines for kindergarten through 12th grade, the CDC said schools should only reopen after a sustained decrease in newly identified cases, and even then they should implement enhanced social distancing measures – such as closing cafeterias and playgrounds and serving meals in classrooms instead.

FILE PHOTO: An empty playground at a closed school is seen from above during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Once new cases drop to nearly zero, schools could move to looser distancing measures, such as staggering school drop-off times, the guidelines suggest.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the union welcomed the guidelines but said they shifted responsibility to local health officials and did not provide needed additional support to schools.

“These guidelines spell out more of what we need to reopen safely, but they come with a necessary cost the administration would rather ignore,” said Weingarten.

Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis

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