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Schools aren’t spreading COVID-19 like we initially thought, CDC finds, if precautions are in place

But indoor and close contact sports, where masks can’t be worn and social distancing isn’t possible, should remain on hold.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The coronavirus rarely spreads in schools if proper safety protocols are followed, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded.

Those precautions are primarily mask-wearing and proper social distancing.

But explicit mandates for either vary by district here in Florida, where students have been offered either in-person or virtual learning options since the governor mandated schools to reopen last summer.

“When they did it right with masks and social distancing, there wasn’t spread in the school more than in the community, even if there are high numbers of cases in the community,” CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agas explained Wednesday on CBS This Morning.

The CDC review published Tuesday includes research focused on schools in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

A study of more than 90,000 students and staff in 11 North Carolina school districts found in-school virus transmission was “very rare.”

In rural Wisconsin, researchers looked at 17 different schools and found cases linked to in-person learning were low even as infections outside of the schools in the community were increasing.

But researchers noted that students and staff in these schools wore masks almost all the time.

“For the districts that are doing mask mandates and appropriate social distancing I believe they are having fewer problems,” said Nancy Velardi, the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

“But I know there are districts throughout Florida that are not doing that and they are suffering for it.”

Velardi said that while the Pinellas County school district does have a mask mandate she doesn’t believe it’s equitably enforced.

The union is lobbying the district to implement a social distancing mandate, Velardi said, over concerns proper social distancing will become more difficult as more students transition from virtual learning back into the classroom.

“More children are returning into the building,” she said. “We do believe it will be harder to maintain the four to six feet that we’ve had all through the first semester.”

Yvonne Brockington decided to return her children to in-person learning this past fall. Her son and daughter, both honor roll students, struggled with virtual learning.

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“They go to school every day with a mask on, and we’ve all been very healthy so far,” she said. “But the kids do tell me that it’s rather crowded in the hallways.”

Brockington said all she can do is continue to reinforce how to properly take precautions and wear their masks. For the foreseeable future, she hopes parents have the option to choose which learning style is best for their children.

In the meantime, the CDC advises indoor and close contact sports and other extracurricular activities remain on hold because they don’t allow for safe social distancing or mask-wearing.

The CDC, in a separate study, cites the December outbreak in Polk County stemming from a high school wrestling tournament that resulted in at least 79 positive COVID-19 cases in one death. The report notes distancing isn’t possible and masks were not worn.

While little was known about the spread of the virus in schools at the start of the pandemic, evidence has since emerged showing virus transmission in schools is low.

But here in Florida, as more students have transitioned back into the classroom this semester, infection rates have increased. This has led some teachers and district leaders to lobby for school staff to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Ron DeSantis maintains his approach to prioritize seniors and healthcare workers is the best approach.

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 national strategy calls for reopening a majority of schools in his first 100 days in office.

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