The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has quietly removed controversial guidance from its website that pushed for schools to reopen in the fall and downplayed the transmission risks of COVID-19 to children and others.
The documents, one of which was reportedly written by political appointees outside of the CDC, stated that children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults and that children are unlikely to be major spreaders of the virus.
The CDC removed two guidance documents from its website in late October with no public announcement.
When reached for comment, a CDC spokesperson said, “Some of the prior content was outdated and as new scientific information has emerged the site has been updated to reflect current knowledge about COVID-19 and schools.”
While kids are far less likely than adults to become seriously ill from COVID-19, less was known at the time about what role children play in spreading the virus to others including teachers and staff.
The Trump administration made a hard push for reopening schools this fall, citing the importance of in-person education to children and the boost parents going back to work would give the economy.
However, experts criticized the CDC’s guidance, which they say appeared to be politically motivated and light on evidence.
Before the documents were removed, CDC Director Robert Redfield told Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, that the guidance was “out of date” and would be updated.
“I am pleased that, in response to this request, CDC has now removed two guidance documents unsupported by science and has agreed to update two more that Director Redfield concedes are ‘out of date,’” Clyburn said in a statement.
“With infections rising dramatically across the country, it is critical that schools, teachers, and families have accurate, trustworthy public health information on the coronavirus.”
Michael Beach, the CDC’s deputy incident manager for the COVID-19 response, told Clyburn’s committee in October the guidelines “reflect the data at the time they were posted and have not been updated.”
“It does appear that children can become infected,” Beach said, and “clearly can transmit.”
The CDC’s website now states that “the body of evidence is growing that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and contrary to early reports might play a role in transmission.”
The website also acknowledges that “teachers and students are in close contact for much of the day, and schools can become a place where respiratory diseases like COVID-19 can quickly spread.”
However, data increasingly suggests schools are not hot spots for COVID-19 infection and while all kids can catch the virus, older children are more likely than younger children to spread it to others.
Still, the World Health Organization notes on its website that few outbreaks involving children or schools have been reported and the “spread of COVID-19 within educational settings may be limited.”
Updated at 4:13 p.m.