Surgeon General: Coronavirus Transmission Rate Should Determine School Reopening Plans

July 21, 2020 Updated: July 21, 2020

The transmission rate of the CCP virus should dictate the decision to reopen schools, according to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a member of the White House task force on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What I want people to know is the biggest determinant of whether or not we can go back to school actually has little to nothing to do with the actual schools,” Adams said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.” “It’s your background transmission rate.”

He said people who wish to safely return to their “regular life” need to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

“We’ve seen in Norway, we’ve seen in Denmark that when they start with a low background transmission rate they were able to safely reopen schools with minimal to no transmission among young people, particularly people under the age of ten or twelve,” Adam said.

Adams noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended strategies that schools can adopt when they reopen this fall, “but again the most important thing is what we do outside of schools before we reopen to lower the transmission rate.”

“We know the risk is low to the actual students. But we know they can transmit to others,” he told CBS host Gayle King. “We need to take measures to make sure we protect those who are vulnerable either because they are older or they have chronic medical conditions.”

According to Rt.live, a website that tracks and calculates the rate at which the virus is spreading, 12 U.S. states managed to maintain a transmission rate under 1.0 as of Tuesday morning, namely Utah, South Dakota, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Delaware, South Carolina, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon. A transmission rate below 1.0 means it takes more than one infected person on average to infect one healthy person each day, indicating the spread of the disease is slowing.

Adams’ remarks came as the CDC delayed the release of its school reopening guidance to the end of July. The CDC issued interim guidelines for schools in April, which have been frequently updated to provide new information. The latest version of the CDC guidelines recommend a host of practices for schools to reopen, such as that staff and older students wear face coverings when feasible, implement staggered arrival and drop-off schedules to reduce physical contact, install physical barriers to promote physical distancing, among many others.

Vice President Michael Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said last week he doesn’t want the guidance to be used as a reason to keep schools closed.

“To be very clear,” Pence said during a roundtable on school reopening, “we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools. We’re going to respect whatever decisions are made.”