Pediatricians Say It's Safe to Open Schools, With or Without Vaccine

New York Times survey finds 86% of doctors support return to in-class instruction

Schoolchildren wearing masks / Getty Images
February 12, 2021

Eighty-six percent of doctors surveyed by the New York Times said schools can safely resume in-person learning without vaccinating teachers, even in communities with high levels of coronavirus infection.

The Times asked 175 doctors, mostly pediatricians, whether they support fully reopening schools for in-person instruction five days per week. While the doctors largely agreed that students should wear masks and social distance, most said vaccinating teachers, students, and parents of those students is not necessary to safely return to the classroom.

"There is no situation in which schools can't be open unless they have evidence of in-school transmission," Dr. David Rosen, a doctor and professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Times.

Another doctor warned that longterm isolation could do more harm to students than the coronavirus pandemic.

"The mental health crisis caused by school closing will be a worse pandemic than COVID," said Dr. Uzma Hasan, a top doctor at RWJBarnabas Health.

More than two-thirds of the doctors surveyed have school-aged children. Many said that community transmission rates are "not an important indicator" of whether a school should resume in-person learning.

A growing body of scientific data suggests that schools can safely reopen if students wear masks and practice other transmission mitigation strategies. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control found that coronavirus outbreaks in classrooms have been "rarely reported." And CDC director Rochelle Walensky has said that opening schools safely does not require teachers to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed on Thursday that a "lack of data" has prevented the Biden administration from rolling out its plan to reopen schools within the president's first 100 days. Psaki on Tuesday qualified the administration's definition of reopening schools, saying President Biden wanted "some" in-person learning "at least one day a week."

The majority of the nation's 13,000 school districts, however, already offer in-person instruction for students at least one day per week. Half of the country's students are learning remotely.

The CDC is expected to release further guidance on reopening schools Friday afternoon.