Former CDC director says US ‘paid a serious price’ by keeping schools closed

Former CDC Director Robert Redfield, a major figure in the federal government's pandemic response in 2020, said the country "paid a serious price" by closing schools as numerous school districts nationwide have once again closed classrooms.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Redfield lamented the number of schools that failed to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic and took aim at teachers who continue to fight in-person learning, noting healthcare workers like himself assume risk when going to work each day and that teachers should assume the same.

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"Virtual learning is not in the public health interest of the K-12 students," Redfield said. "And I think we paid a serious price because that was not embraced."

"We healthcare professionals took a vocation, we understand within that vocation, there's some risk," he added. "Well, I would argue the same goes for our teachers, it's a vocation. And I think the teachers need to embrace their ability to teach."

Redfield served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Donald Trump from 2018 to 2021. He was succeeded by Rochelle Walensky following the transition to the Biden administration.

Redfield called some of the damage inflicted by school closings "irreversible."

He outlined the many mitigation tools that schools have against the spread of the coronavirus, including testing and isolation, masking, social distancing, and ventilation, while also touting the efficacy of available vaccines. But he was quick to add that mandates were not the answer.

"I'm not an advocate of mandates. I don't think mandates help get us over the goal line," Redfield said. "I think, when you, as a physician, if you try to bludgeon somebody or embarrass somebody, or mandate somebody take a certain position for their own personal health, if they happen to have a tendency not to agree with you, then they just dig their heels in on it. So, I don't think mandates help us get more of the American public, for example, vaccinated."

Redfield told the Washington Examiner that some mitigation tools employed by school districts, such as requiring students to eat meals outside in sometimes frigid temperatures, are unnecessary and could even undermine the goal of limiting exposure.

"All aspects of our activity in society now can be done, in general, in a safe and responsible way," he said. "The issue is to figure out, you know, what is that safe and responsible way?"

"I think it's really overkill, where kids are put out in the cold to eat," he went on, "which, if you watch kids, when they're out in the cold, eat, they have a tendency to huddle together, which is not what I want. I don't need them huddling together."

Ultimately, Redfield said, the best tool available to keep children safe from serious COVID-19 infection is vaccination. But the greatest challenge for keeping schools open has to do with keeping teachers from having to call out sick, he added, which must be accomplished through aggressive testing and the use of available antivirals.

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"The more we can have aggressive testing, the more we can have antivirals, the more we can keep that teaching workforce in the classroom to help these students get the vocational education that they deserve," he said.

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