Epidemiologist: CDC wrong on schools reopening

BOSTON — Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm said he is often met, lately, with disappointment from reporters, who are expecting him to follow the “good news” narrative about the pandemic that seems to be bursting at every journalistic seam.

And he would.

If he could.

But, in a briefing with reporters Friday, Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, threw cold water on the idea COVID is anywhere near done with us -- and expressed concern over newly-released CDC guidelines, which ease up on what constitutes a “safe school.”

“I, for one, was a strong supporter of opening schools, particularly K through 8, saying the epidemiology here is compelling, that there’s just very little transmission -- to kids, from kids, by kids and that we could open schools,” Osterholm said. “Well, B.1.1.7 has totally turned that on its head.”

B.1.1.7 is known as the British variant of COVID-19, so-named because of the geographical locale where it was found predominant last fall. It is considered a more transmissible form of the virus -- and potentially more pathogenic.

Osterholm said the first evidence B.1.1.7 existed in England came from children, where they are now regarded as a major source of transmission of the variant -- to other children, to adults and to the community.

Friday, the CDC issued guidelines on schools reopening that, Osterholm charged, don’t take into account the latest twist in the pandemic.

“We’re taking old data on schools opening,” he said. “And we got brand new data.”

Data which suggests, to Osterholm, that fully reopening schools may be a short-lived shot at normalcy.

“I think school openings today are going to greatly enhance transmission of B.1.1.7 in our communities,” Osterholm said. “And I predict that within weeks we will be revisiting this issue -- unfortunately, after we’ve had substantial transmission.”

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