Researchers Blast CDC After It 'Misinterpreted' Their Data to Defend Closing Schools


Researchers whose data was used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to defend keeping schools closed have hit back at the organization, saying it misinterpreted their data.

In a piece for USA Today published Tuesday, the researchers wrote that “[t]he recent school reopening guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an example of fears influencing and resulting in misinterpretation of science and harmful policy.”

The piece carried a headline that made no bones about its argument: “CDC misinterpreted our research on opening schools. It should loosen the rules now.”

The scientists — Dr. Tara O. Henderson, Dr. Monica Gandhi, Dr. Tracy Beth Hoeg and Dr. Daniel Johnson — wrote that numerous states were following the CDC’s current guidelines, which didn’t take into account the data that said keeping schools shut is harmful to students.

“Like in so many states, California and Illinois schools are being hamstrung by the CDC guidance,” they wrote.

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“The guidance does not take into account the data we have regarding little disease transmission in schools. Nor, although the guidance cites the work performed across Wisconsin districts performed by our group and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, does it take that data and new analyses from that data set into account.”

The Wisconsin study found that in 17 rural schools in the state, there was a minuscule transmission rate.

“Keeping schools closed or even partially closed, based on what we know now is unwarranted, is harming children, and has become a human rights issue,” the authors wrote.

The researchers also found “children are not at significant risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19.”

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“As of Tuesday, 288 children have died from the disease in the United States, compared with more than 500,000 adults. While the death of any child is devastating, this is similar to the number who dies from influenza each year,” they noted.

Meanwhile: “COVID-19 deaths in children and adolescents are magnitudes smaller than deaths from suicide, some now driven by school closure. Coronavirus in children can cause potentially dangerous complications — e.g., multi-inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) — but this is very rare and in nearly all cases treatable.”

Viral spread is minimal if mask-wearing is prevalent, even if social distancing isn’t followed, the researchers wrote. Furthermore, if safety precautions are followed, “even in communities with a high disease prevalence” there isn’t a high disease prevalence in schools. And then there’s the fact vaccination is coming, particularly for teachers and administrators. These would work against variants of COVID-19, too, they wrote.

“Vaccination is on the way for teachers and staff. Vaccination is expected to work against the variants. There are two major arms of the immune system: antibodies and T-cells. Vaccines work in multiple ways, most transiently by inducing antibodies that usually provide more short-term protection or protection from mild illness,” they wrote.

“The COVID-19 vaccines also generate strong T-cell immunity directed against the virus. These T-cells work against multiple parts of the virus, including those that are conserved across variants. A recent paper shows the ability of COVID-19 specific T-cells to protect against multiple variants. “

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And then there are the ancillary costs of keeping schools closed — and they are considerable.

“School closure comes with long-term individual and societal costs. Many children cannot effectively learn, group, engage, socialize, be active, eat healthy food or get support until schools physically reopen. Children with special needs and from disadvantaged backgrounds are, in general, paying the largest price. As most private and parochial school districts are open for in-person instruction, the divide between the haves and have-nots is exponentially growing. We are observing a significant psychological epidemic in children with depression and anxiety due to the isolation associated with school closure, with suicidal behaviors,” the researchers wrote.

“Subsequent lost wages for families translates into poverty, eviction and food insecurity. Recent research assessed there are greater risks to life expectancy with schools closed versus staying open.”

Keep in mind Hoeg, an epidemiologist at the University of California-Davis, was one of the authors of the Wisconsin study, and all of the authors of the piece have done work on transmission inside of schools. The verdict has been pretty much unanimous: Schools can, should, and need to be back open.

There’s one group that doesn’t believe this, however — teachers unions. When organized labor talks, the Democratic Party listens.

Should Democratic Party politics dictate whether schools should be open? Of course not. The science is in — and, as the Democrats always like to say, we should follow the science.

Except in this situation, of course — for reasons that can be too easily grasped.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture