The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, on Friday, cited a new study released by his agency as evidence that despite the pandemic, there is a way to safely reopen daycare and schools.
The study cited by Redfield looked at confirmed and probable Covid-19 infections related to daycare centers in Rhode Island between June 1, when they reopened with restrictions on decreasing prevalence, to June 31. As of July 31, 666 childcare facilities across the state were allowed to reopen with a capacity for 18,945 children, the study said. However, the study did not indicate how many children and staff were actually in the facilities during the time frame.
According to research by the Rhode Island Department of Health, cases were found in 29 facilities, of which 20 had only one case with no further spread.
The study attributed the low number of cases in Rhode Island daycare centers to the low prevalence across the state compared to other parts of the country and compliance with the state-issued health protocol. However, the study recognized the "significant" impact Covid-19 had on childcare programs, which resulted in 853 children and employees being quarantined.
"I think this is an inspirational article for individuals to say that there is a way to use or work with their health authorities to safely reopen these childcare programs," he said on a conference call with reporters, to discuss the study. "And as an extension, we are trying to reopen these schools."
In total, the study found that 52 children and adults were infected and connected to one of the childcare facilities. However, the study recognized that "case identification in children is challenging given the high rate of asymptomatic infections or mild illnesses" and that "infections were likely undetected".
All facilities where a symptomatic person was identified had to be closed for 14 days or until the symptomatic person tested negative for Covid-19, according to the study. It adds that the state's Ministry of Health has quarantined and monitored contacts during this time.
"It just provides data to say that working with public health, if things are done with vigilance, you can actually … be able to reopen childcare and not have significant secondary transmission," said Redfield.
Some of the state protocols CDC officials said helped curb the spread in Rhode Island facilities included adult wearing of masks; daily symptom screening for children and adults; Tracing contacts when incidents occurred and dividing students into groups, preventing students and staff from mixing between groups. The study identified four facilities where secondary transmission occurred, but the authors wrote that "epidemiological studies found a lack of compliance with state protocol in these facilities".
Redfield's comments come from the reopening of many schools and universities across the country to in-person tuition or a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual learning. Some school districts have reported rapidly increasing Covid-19 cases among students. At least three universities across the country have reversed their plans to run in-person courses for the semester in the first few weeks of class during the student outbreak.
"I firmly believe that it is in the public health interest to bring the K through 12 back to face-to-face learning, and we just need to work together to do it safely and sensibly," added Redfield added. "One school, one jurisdiction, one family at a time."
Despite recent outbreaks in some locations and cases related to some school districts, Redfield said schools can be safely reopened if a "proactive" approach to public health is taken and schools reopen in the appropriate context of low prevalence. He added that the "majority of our nation", county by county, is in the "green zone," meaning less than 5% of all tests on any given day are positive, which could suggest the virus is under control.
Erin Sauber-Schatz, who currently serves as CDC chair of the Task Force on Interventions and Critical Community Populations, reiterated Redfield's view that there is a way to safely reopen schools and daycare.
"We have seen in both the US and other countries that schools in communities with low transmission can safely open," she said on the conference call. "It's more of a challenge in churches that have broader transmission."
Both Redfield and Sauber-Schatz urged Americans to adhere to public health guidelines to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and allow communities to reopen schools safely.