Teachers may be more likely to spread COVID-19 than students, a new CDC study suggests.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined nine outbreaks in eight elementary schools in Marietta, Ga., outside of Atlanta in December through last month, the agency said Monday.
A teacher was proven to be Ground Zero for four of the outbreaks, while a student was definitively identified as the starting point in another, researchers said.
In the other four outbreaks, while the line of transmission was not as clear, a teacher was suspected as being the kick-off, the study said.
“Educators were central to in-school transmission networks,” the scientists said in their report.
“The finding that educators play an important role in in-school transmission is consistent with findings from other investigations,” the study added, referring to previous British and German research.
Still, the CDC report noted that the Georgia schools involved in the study had “less than ideal physical distancing,” with students behind plastic dividers at their desks but fewer than 3 feet apart because of the sheer size of classes.
“Inadequate mask use” by students also may have contributed to at least five of the outbreaks, researchers said.
The Biden administration has said it wants to reopen more schools, but has been inconsistent on its goals and whether it wants more teachers to be vaccinated first amid pushback from unions.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky discussed the study at a White House coronavirus briefing on Monday, saying it showed the need for teachers to be prioritized for vaccines.
She argued that it also underscored the need for schools to follow the CDC’s reopening guidelines.
“In particular, universal mask wearing, physical distancing of at least 6 feet and using ‘cohorting’ or ‘podding’ of students, are important to minimize spread,” she said.
“This is especially true of schools that have high rates of COVID-19 in their community.”
Walensky added that distance requirements — which she acknowledged are “challenging” — can be relaxed as community spread is reduced.