At Briefing, CDC Official Acknowledges School Guidance Fails to Capture Accurate Science on Coronavirus Risks to Children
Washington, D.C. (October 22, 2020)—At a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis staff briefing yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Deputy Incident Manager for the COVID-19 Response, Dr. Michael Beach, stated that CDC’s school reopening guidance is outdated and will be updated to reflect the current science on risks to children. Dr. Beach also acknowledged that rising cases among young people as colleges reopened appear to have contributed to a broader surge in coronavirus infections—and that CDC expects deaths to increase as well.
The briefing was held in response to a September 30, 2020, letter from Chairman James E. Clyburn to Vice President Mike Pence, Health Secretary Alex Azar, and CDC Director Robert Redfield, which called for the Trump Administration to “immediately revise CDC’s guidance so that it faithfully reflects the science—rather than the partisan political interests of the President.”
Chairman Clyburn issued the following statement following CDC’s briefing:
“I am pleased that the CDC has finally acknowledged that the Administration’s guidance on reopening schools does not reflect the best available science and has agreed to my request to revise this guidance so it accurately communicates the risks that the coronavirus poses to children. With coronavirus cases rising around the country yet again, CDC must act swiftly to provide objective, science-based information—without political meddling from the Trump Administration—so schools and parents can make decisions based on unbiased advice from the agency’s public health experts.”
CDC provided the following information during the briefing:
CDC’s School Guidance is Not Based on Current Science and Will Be Updated
Dr. Beach stated that CDC’s current guidance documents on school reopening, which were issued in July 2020, “reflect the data at the time they were posted and have not been updated.” He said that after receiving the Select Subcommittee’s September 30 letter, he asked his team at CDC to review the guidance and concluded, “it’s not including all of this data.”
Dr. Beach confirmed that CDC is currently updating three of its guidance documents on school reopening and plans to issue additional scientific reports on the risks of the coronavirus to children.
Children Can Transmit the Coronavirus
CDC’s July 2020 reopening guidance states, “Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low.” At yesterday’s briefing, however, Dr. Beach acknowledged, “It does appear that children can become infected,” and said children “clearly can transmit.” He also acknowledged that CDC studies show “transmission from children to children,” including at a Georgia summer camp where CDC found that 76% of children who were tested had the virus.
Asked about the statement in CDC’s July 2020 guidance that “Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults,” Dr. Beach cautioned, “there’s nuance to that.” He acknowledged people could misinterpret this statement to mean that “children can’t get sick,” explaining: “I think there’s conflation of ‘less severe illness,’ [which] doesn’t mean they can’t transmit to someone else or adults or that they can’t get ill themselves.”
Students Returning to College Likely Drove the Fall Surge in New Cases
CDC’s July 2020 guidance states: “The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools … suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.” Yesterday, however, Dr. Beach stated, “We don’t have enough data to be sure” that children can be ruled out as major drivers of infection.
Dr. Beach told Select Subcommittee staff that infections among children aged 12-17 and among 18-22 year-olds have “increased over time” beginning in August and that infections among individuals aged 18-22 “seem to have driven the second wave of infection, around the same time that colleges opened.” He concluded, “We do expect deaths to start going up, driven by that young adult group.”
“Schools Aren’t Islands”
Dr. Beach stated that reducing community transmission is the best way to reduce transmission within schools, telling Select Subcommittee staff, “Schools aren’t islands,” and emphasizing that “masking and distancing is what defeats this virus.”