By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
State health and education officials are panning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance for opening schools for in-person instruction, saying the new federal recommendations would hold New Hampshire schools back.
The CDC issued the updated guidance late last week and calls for more testing and contact tracing along with greater adherence to mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. The guidelines also want states to tie in-person school to the rate of community spread of COVID-19.
The CDC guideline is here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/operation-strategy.html
In a statement released Wednesday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said New Hampshire should stick with its own system.
“The New Hampshire guidance and approach to in-school instruction has proven to be effective at allowing students across the state the in-person learning they need while limiting the spread of COVID-19 inside school facilities,” the statement said. “The CDC’s new educational phased mitigation guidance and suggested testing strategy would place unnecessary barriers to in-person learning.”
Anne Sosin, a public health policy fellow at Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, said New Hampshire is already behind the curve for school reopening when compared to Vermont. Vermont long ago paired opening schools with the rate of COVID-19 spread in the community.
“Vermont has recognized it’s about keeping community transmission low,” Sosin said.
Vermont was quick to trigger shut-downs and mask mandates, while New Hampshire trailed in dealing with the pandemic, Sosin said.
Even though schools in general have been shown to have fairly low rates of transmission, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott focused reopening schools by cutting the spread of the illness in the greater community. That led to fewer teachers and staffers getting sick and missing work, and possibly forcing schools to go remote or close, Sosin said.
New Hampshire has also not put teachers on the priority list for the vaccination, which is recommended by the CDC.
“Personally, I think the teachers should be vaccinated,” Sosin said.
Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH teachers union, said New Hampshire needs to adopt the federal guidelines in order to keep teachers and students safe for in-person learning.
“The new CDC guidance is a good first step, but now it’s time for action. If they are applied universally in every community and the resources are put in place equitably for all students, our school buildings will be safe for in-person learning,” Tuttle said. “All along we have asked for two things: Follow the science and give us the resources so we can safely get back to in-person instruction.”
New Hampshire has already figured out how to keep schools open, and Edelblut and Chan said the community transmission rates in New Hampshire, along with the COVID-19 metrics, are all in decline.
“With community metrics on the decline, New Hampshire schools have the resources they need to offer in-person education,” the statement from Chan and Edleblut said.