Resources > Charter Currents > Charter Currents:Coronavirus Update #5: Updated CDC Guidance Questions Efficacy of School Closures

March 16, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control issued updated guidance to schools on Friday questioning the effectiveness of school closure on the spread of the virus just as school closure announcements swept across California. Governor Newsom on Sunday called for new steps to halt the spread of Coronavirus-19 continues to defer to local authorities on school closure decisions. 


Governor Speaks to Providing Meals, Serving Special Needs Students During Crisis

Governor Newsom held a rare, Sunday afternoon press conference yesterday, calling for those age 65+ and/or with chronic diseases to self-isolate, for bars and brewpubs to close, and for restaurants to remain open, albeit with sharply diminished capacity to “maximize social distancing.” Newsom resisted calls to order statewide school closures and shed some additional light on the terms of his prior executive order regarding school closure.

Some 51 percent of California school districts serving 85 percent of the state’s students will be closed as of Monday (March 16), according to the Governor. This includes 24 of the 25 largest districts, with the Kern High School District remaining open. “Many smaller districts remain open for reasons that are perfectly understandable,” according to Newsom, who explained how local factors called for varying responses rather than a single statewide approach.

Newsom reiterated that state officials will be putting out very detailed guidelines for schools by Tuesday of this week. Newsom appeared irked with local officials’ rapid decisions to close schools last week without plans to address nutrition and special education needs. “We are vetting, curating, and validating all kinds of public and private sector solutions to address various problems,” the Governor said. One such problem is how to feed students who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs. “It’s one thing to say you have a plan [to feed students], it’s another thing to actually deliver on that plan ... with all due respect, not everyone who closed had that plan,” said Newsom. 

Newsom also noted that “we have particular concern for special needs children, and this is something that I know all of us that have any empathy and capacity ... this is how I grew up with a deep consciousness and mindset for those with physical as well as cognitive disabilities. Many of those children don’t have places to go.” He also noted that districts in rural parts of the state operate with very different community assets than those on the coast and that a statewide approach to school closure is impractical.


Updated CDC Guidance Challenges

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the nation’s primary public health institution, updated its prior March 7 preliminary guidance for K-12 schools with new interim guidance issued March 12. The updated interim guidance is an eye-opener and seems to call into question conventional wisdom that closing schools for a few weeks can significantly flatten the otherwise-exponential anticipated growth in COVID-19 infections.

The CDC guidance appears critical of, or at least questions, the logic of school the closure approaches currently underway in most of California. According to CDC:

  • There is a place for school closure, but mostly in either very short-term scenarios (e.g., after an onsite infection to clean and trace contacts) or very long-term scenario (e.g., 4-8 weeks or more to flatten the growth cure).
  • Available modeling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi[demiologic] curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations).

The CDC notes that approaches other than school closure may be more effective:

There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modelling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).

The CDC’s updated guidance offers specific suggestions depending on the level of (or lack of) community spread in a given locale. CSDC continues to believe that school closure is not necessarily a default option, that school leaders presumably should consider the level of COVID-19 activity in their area, the needs of their local community, and advice and/or directives of their county health department prior to taking decisions relative to closure and mitigation. Per the Governor’s executive order and his press conference on Sunday, we anticipate substantial additional guidance from state officials tomorrow (Tuesday, March 17).

Posted: 03/16/2020