As school districts across the United States consider whether and how to restart in-person classes, their challenge is complicated by a pair of fundamental uncertainties: No nation has tried to send children back to school with the virus raging at levels like America’s, and the scientific research about transmission in classrooms is limited.
The World Health Organization has now concluded that the virus is airborne in crowded, indoor spaces with poor ventilation, a description that fits many American schools. But there is enormous pressure to bring students back — from parents, from pediatricians and child development specialists, and from President Trump.
The C.D.C. has outlined steps schools can take to minimize the risks for students, including maintaining a distance of six feet, washing hands and wearing masks.
“The guidelines are already exceptionally weak,” said Carl Bergstrom, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Washington in Seattle. He and others said they feared that the recommendations would get watered down even more in response to political pressure.
The C.D.C. has been working on new recommendations for reopening schools for several weeks, in consultation with organizations like the National Association of School Nurses, according to a C.D.C. spokeswoman. The five planned documents include guidance on symptom screening and face masks, and a checklist for parents or guardians trying to decide whether to send their children to school. But they do not include any information on improving ventilation or curtailing airborne spread of the virus.
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