Skip to content

The CDC Director Just Issued This Big Warning About Coronavirus

The director said keeping schools closed is a great "public health threat."

The question of whether to open schools or not, given the coronavirus outbreak, is one that will make headlines until fall. Some politicians want kids to return to school so parents can go back to work and restart the economy. Some teachers are afraid to go back.

The CDC director Robert Redfield announced his intentions this week, saying keeping them closed would be a threat to kids: "I'm of the point of view as a public health leader in this nation, that having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen," Redfield told The Hill.

"The comments in favor of reopening schools from Redfield come as Trump presses for schools to reopen," reports the Hill, adding context. "On Wednesday, the president criticized the CDC in a tweet for 'their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools,' raising fears about the politicization of the country's leading public health agency."

"I cannot overstate how important I think it is now to get our schools in this nation reopened," Redfield said. "The reason I push it is that I truly believe it's for the public health benefit of these kids."

Some Agree with the CDC Director

Although everyone—from parents to teachers to children to experts—has an opinion, some who make the ultimate decisions agree with the CDC director. In Florida, one of the worst epicenters of COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis is sure schools will reopen.

"The main thing is, 'What's in it for the kids?" DeSantis said Saturday. "What harm is going to be done by continuing to keep them out of school? We're proud of our distance learning here in Florida. We think we were ahead of the curve a lot of states were calling our commissioner when this all started. As much as we're proud of that, there's an achievement gap that's developed. There's no question. That will only be as long as this happens."

He added: "We know there are huge, huge costs for not providing in person school for our students. The risk of corona for students is incredibly low. CDC will show statistics under 18 much more likely to be hospitalized for seasonal influenza than for this. Fatality rate is higher for seasonal influenza amongst under 18 than this has proven to be."

Others Advise More Caution

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which wants kids back in schools, disagrees with Florida's statewide mandate to reopen schools, saying it could be unsafe. "Our latest guidelines articulate that our main goal is for students to be physically present at school this fall," President Dr. Sally Goza said in an interview with NPR. "But we also recognize that COVID-19 remains a very real, active threat to community health. And we really believe that decisions on when and how to reopen need to consider a variety of factors, but a big one is the level of virus in the community. We know that it has to be safe, and we know that we have to try to decrease that transmission as much as we can."

Meanwhile, other states are weighing their options. "Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told reporters the numbers will determine if the state has to go back a phase in its reopening plan, in which case students may not return to the classroom as currently planned," reports CNN, and "Arkansas has pushed the first day of school back from August 13 to 24 to give districts time to adjust to a blended learning plan, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Thursday."

The Former CDC Head Weighs In

Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now Vice President for Global Health at Emory University, told NPR that sacrificing public health measures by opening schools could be disastrous. Here's why, in his words.

"Well, they can only make sense in the context of what else is going on in the community around them. So in sites where the disease is out of control, it's going up with a considerable velocity, then local health authorities and educational authorities have to work together and decide, is this feasible and how much risk or danger does it place students in going back to school? Have no fear, the public health community is extraordinarily eager to see students back in school for a wide range of issues, as pediatricians and school officials. But a key element in it is the caveat, as long as it is taking care of the health of the children and paying attention to risks and mitigating those risks in schools."

Koplan chafes at the idea of the CDC's guidelines for reopening schools being "tough, expensive and impractical," as President Trump put it. "I guess you can make an argument out of anything but…seeing if the school is ready to protect children who have other diseases, deficiencies, et cetera, the ability to screen students and employees when they arrive at work through symptoms," he says. "Those aren't impractical. They're not tough. And they're not expensive. To use those as the basis for rejecting these guidelines is absurd. The current plan is recommending standard mitigation procedures—health and safety issues promoting hygiene, cloth masks, cleaning the rooms. These are things that we've been talking about for some time now, and to refer to those as too expensive, how can they be too expensive? We've chosen to spend our funding on airlines."

Redfield, for his part, told CNN: "We all want to protect the safety of the children that are in schools. There's really a public health crisis. We are paying by not having these schools open, and I think we really need to get that balance."

To keep yourself and your kids healthy, avoid crowds, don't go indoors with large groups, wear your face mask, social distance, wash your hands frequently, monitor your health, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek
Filed Under