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As New COVID Concerns Emerge, Biden Administration Keeps Focus on School Reopenings

By Evie Blad — August 02, 2021 2 min read
Image of a student holding a mask and a backpack near the entrance of a classroom.
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Even as the nation’s health officials and school administrators continued to grapple with the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, the Biden administration kept its focus on reopening schools for in-person learning Monday, stressing the need for appropriate safety precautions.

The U.S. Department of Education released new resources for schools, parents, and communities that highlight best practices about how to keep students safe and reopen classrooms that were shuttered to contain the pandemic. The “Return to School Roadmap” emphasizes the importance of mask- wearing in schools and vaccinations for all eligible students, teachers, and staff as key strategies for reducing virus transmission and keeping communities safe.

“Schools should continue to take multiple measures this fall to ensure the health and safety of teachers, staff, and students, especially those who are not fully vaccinated. Schools and districts should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and the occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on layered prevention strategies,” the document said.

The “Roadmap” the Education Department released Monday largely link back to previously released resources and best practices from schools around the country. They include a checklist for parents and guides for schools and communities on keeping students safe, promoting emotional well-being, and supporting academic recovery.

The White House also released Monday a fact sheet about efforts President Biden has made to help schools reopen, including a surge of about $122 billion in K-12 aid provided through the American Rescue Plan and efforts to prioritize educators as recipients of early vaccine doses.

“The Administration has taken decisive action to support the safe reopening of schools for in-person instruction and to address the pandemic’s disparate impact on students of color and other underserved students,” the White House said.

The messaging moves showed continued emphasis on reopening schools, even as the pandemic enters a new phase. About 60 percent of U.S. counties had a high level of community transmission during the last week in July, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 16 percentage point increase from the week prior. In previous guidance, the CDC recommended that schools in high-transmission areas cancel some extracurricular activities, like football and wrestling, prioritizing in-person school instead.

Public health officials attribute the growth in cases to low vaccination rates in some areas combined with the emergence of the Delta variant, a strain of COVID-19 that is much more contagious than earlier waves of the virus.

New research confirms that vaccinated people are much less likely to contract the new variant and much less likely to face serious illness if they do. But even vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant if they contract it, the CDC said. That led the agency to revise its guidance to schools last week, recommending universal mask-wearing by all students and adults.

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