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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Can schools safely reopen without teachers being vaccinated?

A health expert weighs in on if data suggests schools can safely reopen without staff and students being vaccinated.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Wednesday the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinations for teachers are not a requirement for schools to reopen.  

Shelby County Schools is the only district in Tennessee that does not offer an option for in-person learning.  

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely re-open and that safe re-opening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to re-open,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the newly appointed CDC director. 

Walensky said in a White House press briefing on COVID-19 that the vaccination of teachers is not a pre-requisite for the safe reopening of schools.   

Later in the day, the White House press secretary back-pedaled Walensky’s statement.  

“They have not released their official guidance yet from the CDC on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of school,” said Jen Psaki.  

“If we go with the science, the science would suggest that a classroom situation is much more safe than we realized it would be,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld of Baptist Memorial Hospital.   

When the local infectious disease expert was asked if returning to the classroom without teachers being vaccinated was safe, he cited a recent study of 17 schools in rural Wisconsin.  

“In those only about 3.7 percent of cases that occurred within those kids were felt to have occurred in any way related to their classroom activities,” said Threlkeld. 

In that study, no staff members were known to have contracted COVID, and Threlkeld pointed out teachers were not vaccinated   

He also said it’s crucial to meet the same criteria as the study that we’re relying on. For instance, smaller class sizes, adequate spacing, and masks.   

“We want to make everybody as safe as possible. I think that includes trying to vaccinate our teachers as quickly as we can.”