Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

How long is the federal government advising schools to stay closed to help curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus that has become a global pandemic?

It isn’t giving a definitive answer.

About a dozen states have ordered that schools close for varying periods starting this week, and other districts have closed in other states, affecting the education of millions of young people. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who last week became the first governor to shut down schools statewide, said Sunday that schools could stay closed until the end of the academic year.

“We’ve informed the superintendents why we’ve closed schools for three weeks and …. the odds are this is going to go on a lot longer, and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union."

The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the available evidence from other countries is those places that did close schools, such as Hong Kong, “have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not,” such as Singapore.

It also said that “available modeling” indicates that early closures of a few days or two to four weeks “do not impact” the spread of the virus or hospitalizations but may be useful if many students and staff are absent, or to clean buildings and try to trace networks of people who may have been infected.

As for longer school closures of eight to 20 weeks, the CDC said that “there may be some impact” but that modeling shows that other efforts, such as hand-washing and home isolation, “have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures.”

Without strict instructions from the CDC, states and districts are making their own decisions.

Here’s exactly what the CDC is saying:

Considerations for School Closure
Recommendations on school closure based on available science, reports from other countries and consultation with school health experts.
1. There is a role for school closure in response to school-based cases of COVID-19 for decontamination and contact tracing (few days of closure), in response to significant absenteeism of staff and students (short to medium length, i.e. 2-4 weeks of closure), or as part of a larger community mitigation strategy for jurisdictions with substantial community spread* (medium to long length, i.e. 4-8 weeks or more of closure).
2. Available modeling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modelling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).
3. In places where school closures are necessary, the anticipated academic and economic impacts and unintended impacts on disease outcomes must be planned for and mitigated. Provision of academic support (e.g., tele-ed), alternatives for school-based meals as well as other services (e.g., behavioral and mental health services) for economically and physically vulnerable children, support for families for whom telework and paid sick leave is not available, ensuring that high risk individuals continue to be protected must all be addressed. Special consideration must be given for health care workers so that school closures do not impact their ability to work.
*Substantial community spread is defined as large scale community transmission, health care staffing significantly impacted, multiple cases within communal settings.

Here’s the complete CDC guidance: