Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm said Friday he believes “it would be a major mistake” to change social distancing guidelines to reopen schools.

“I think we’re in a new ball game. I think it would be a major mistake if the CDC changes their distancing right now for school recommendations,” Osterholm said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) newly changed guidance on Friday says students in elementary and in a number of middle and high schools can social distance three feet apart, The Washington Post reported.

A Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center study found that the amount of student and staff coronavirus cases wasn’t significantly different for Massachusetts public schools in districts that had three and six feet of social distancing.

“It would be based on a single study which had many, many challenges and problems with that study,” Osterholm said. “If you know anything about viruses, the idea that you can prevent a virus like this from being transmitted at three feet, I can probably move the Grand Canyon to Fargo easier than to convince many of us in this area that that’s actually real.”


Osterholm says he’s backed the reopening of schools, especially for children in the eighth grade or below due to grade school virus trends that indicate children hardly spread the virus. The epidemiologist said children are contracting the virus “less than we see in the general population and teachers were not really at increased risk.”

Osterholm said children transmitted the United Kingdom coronavirus variant where schools stayed open, despite going into complete lockdown.

“So we’re now confronted with this new fact that this particular variant does infect kids. In fact, we have a large outbreak going on right now here in Minnesota, largely based in school-aged children which then spills over into the parents and grandparents,” Osterholm said.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it’s going to be investing $10 billion of the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package towards enlarging testing for the virus in schools, according to a March 17 press release.

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