The CDC says schools should be “the last settings to close” and “the first to reopen.”
But to open, schools should layer their mitigation strategies, according to the Atlanta-based federal agency, which published guidance to schools Friday.
In that report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized mask wearing and social distancing.
But the agency on Friday also released a study showing mixed mask usage in middle and high schools. Of a sample of 3,953 students surveyed, 65% said peers wore masks all the time.
The CDC on Friday refreshed its chart for school decision-making, reducing the number of thresholds from five to four. Lowest and low transmission groups were merged.
The color-coded tiers in the guidance differs from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s tiers, which currently categorizes the county in the purple or “widespread” tier.
Based on the CDC’s new guidelines, Santa Barbara County’s case rate (36.4 daily cases per 100,000 population) falls in the moderate transmission or yellow tier, which covers case rates of 10 to 49 daily cases per 100,000.
But Santa Barbara County’s test positivity rate of 10.2% is in the CDC’s high transmission or red tier, which includes test positivity rates of 10% and up. The CDC said schools measuring in two tiers should follow the more restrictive category.
The CDC recommends elementary schools in communities with high transmission operate in hybrid learning or reduced attendance. The agency said middle and high schools should stay virtual unless they can follow all mitigation strategies with few cases.
Sports and extracurricular activities should be online only in high transmission communities, according to the CDC.
The agency recommends weekly COVID-19 testing of students and staff in almost all cases. If counties are in the low transmission tier, testing of students is not suggested.
The guidance lists vaccines as one mitigation strategy but does not say that vaccination of teachers is required for in-person class. It upholds the Phase 1B categorization of teachers, though recommends teachers are prioritized within the 1B group.
The CDC warns that the guidance may change if COVID-19 variants increase the rate of transmission.