NEW JERSEY – U.S. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Tom Malinowski (NJ-7) wrote to the CDC to request new steps to support the safe return to in-person learning in New Jersey and across the country, by having states prioritize the vaccination of educators and staff in the same category as first responders, ensuring schools optimize their COVID-19 testing procedures, and ensuring a standard set of quarantine guidelines for all states and counties to mitigate confusion.
A lack of guidance and standards from the federal government on what protocols and steps are needed to safely reopen schools has hindered this goal. Consistent guidance from the CDC would help mitigate current inconsistencies between state, county, and local health guidelines on school reopenings.
Vaccinating educators and staff is an important part of reaching President Biden’s goal of reopening most schools in the first one hundred days of the new Administration. As of February 1, 2021, eighteen states, including New York, Connecticut, and Delaware, have already started vaccinating all teachers.
“We know that every parent, including ourselves, wants their child to be able to return to a safe and stable school environment where they can see their friends and receive the best education possible,” Congressmen Gottheimer and Malinowski wrote in a letter this week to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “We, therefore, believe that prioritizing vaccinations for teachers and school staff is critical. We should do so for the same reason we decided to vaccinate first responders like firefighters and police officers — because they perform an indispensable public function that puts them at risk.”
The Members continued, “Moreover, it’s essential that clear and consistent guidelines must be established at all levels of government to mitigate confusion regarding what constitutes exposure to the virus and how long individuals must quarantine. Finally, we believe that schools should administer regular COVID-19 tests, including pooled testing, that are funded by the federal government. This will help manage COVID-19 cases within the school population and limit the potential for outbreaks of the virus.”
In addition to troubling reports of chronic absenteeism among students, there are also indications that declines in reading and math proficiency could be significant and that learning loss has already cost students an estimated three percent of future career earnings. School closures have also further exacerbated learning gaps among low-income students.
Dealing with the challenges of the pandemic and the lack of in-person socialization with their peers has led to a rise in youth mental health crises, including increased youth emergency room visits related to mental health and a rise in student suicides in school districts across the country.