Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

School reopenings should be contingent on community transmission rates and should be a priority over restaurants and other nonessential businesses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday.

Why it matters: America's educators have been calling on the health agency to issue clear and useful guidance for schools, following mixed signals sent by the Trump administration last year.

The state of play: K–12 schools should close only after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely, the guidance says.

  • For elementary schools: Masking, physical distancing and hygiene can allow students to attend in person at any level of community virus transmission.
  • For middle and high schools: Attendance can continue in-person as long as the community is not in the highest threshold of transmission.

Four color-coded "zones", blue, yellow, orange and red, reflecting community transmission correspond to the types of instruction K-12 schools can use: 

  1. Full in-person
  2. Hybrid
  3. Reduced attendance
  4. Virtual-only

By the numbers: The guidance is based on total cases per 100,000 over 7 days in a community, or rate of positive tests. A community with the highest transmission threshold, or red, would have greater than 100 cases per 100,000 daily or a positivity rate more than 10%.

Aside from masking and hygiene, the Education Department suggests using cafeterias and auditoriums for classes, staggering bell schedules and assigning one seat per row on buses.

  • In-person teaching should be prioritized before sports or other extracurriculars.
  • Districts with lower-income students or populations with disabilities should be prioritized for in-person instruction.
  • Families of students at risk for severe illness can opt-out of in-person instruction.
  • Teachers should be prioritized for vaccination but it should not be mandatory for reopening.

Between the lines: The guidance does not mean schools will reopen right away, despite new thresholds and communication to what districts should prioritize. Many parents still want to wait and see what happens before sending their kids back to school.

The big picture: Opening K-12 schools is a topic of intense disagreement among teachers and parents. Teachers unions have become a prominent feature of school reopening debates along with the public's anger.

  • The science still says K-12 in-person school attendance is not a primary driver of community transmission. But when community rates of COVID-19 are high, so is an increased likelihood that infections could be transmitted within a school setting.

Background: President Biden has pledged to reopen K-8 schools within his first 100 days, but the White House has run into challenges it didn't foresee in December like delays in vaccine rollouts and the emergence of new virus variants.

  • Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday after Biden committed to having the majority of schools open by his 100th day in office, that he meant more than 50% of them teaching at least one day per week in-person.

Yes, but: The Biden administration's bar may have been set too low, some experts say. Several nationwide databases tracking school reopenings show that 64% of elementary and middle school students are already seeing some in-person instruction, according to Tuesday data from Burbio's School Opening Tracker.

  • And several state legislatures like Virginia, Wisconsin and Tennessee even took reopening guidance into their own hands this month, fearful if they wait any longer, there won't be enough time to safely orchestrate in-person learning this academic school year.

What they're saying: "It just gives us more clarity around the information gathering that we need to do to be able to take charge of this pandemic. It’s long overdue," Annette Anderson, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for safe and healthy schools, tells Axios.

  • "It gives us some hope that there will be clarity and transparency in what’s being reported and also around expectations so we can start ti understand how we can move forward," she added.

"For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous road map, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

  • “We remain supportive of widespread testing—especially as mutant strains multiply in areas of uncontrolled community spread—and we urge the CDC to remain flexible as more data comes to light."

The other side: "No, a tiered system for reopening is not based in science. We had up to 40% test positivity rate in our WI study and minimal disease spread in school; none to teachers. <6ft distancing. The new guidelines fail to protect our youth," Tracey Hoeg, senior author of the study of Wisconsin schools that was published by the CDC, tweeted.

What to watch: Much of the supplies, testing and infrastructure for ventilation is contingent on what Congress is willing to divvy out to the states.

Go deeper

Feb 15, 2021 - Health

WSJ: 32 million rapid coronavirus tests go unused

Park County Health Department Director Alex Baukus uses the Abbot BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test in Livingston, Montana on Dec. 7. Photo: William Campbell/Getty Images

32 million of 142 million rapid coronavirus tests distributed to states by the federal government have gone unused as of early February, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Health officials and researchers have found that widespread testing is necessary to control cases, that COVID-19 testing can save lives as an early positive test leads people to self-isolate, and that more tests performed relative to a country's caseload is linked with reducing virus transmission rates.

Updated Feb 15, 2021 - World

New Zealand confirms U.K. coronavirus strain as city locks down

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday. Photo: Lynn Grieveson - Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday it was "absolutely right" for New Zealand's most populous city to lock down, after genome sequencing linked a COVID-19 outbreak in an Auckland family to a more virulent strain.

Why it matters: It's the first time the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K. has been found in NZ. Auckland locked down late Sunday for three days over the three community cases amid concern it might be a more contagious strain.

Feb 14, 2021 - Health

Study on Pfizer vaccine shows 94% drop in symptomatic COVID-19 cases

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A recent study by Israel’s largest healthcare provider found that after both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, people are 94% less likely to have symptomatic COVID-19 infections and 92% fewer cases of severe illness due to the virus, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Israel has been rapidly vaccinating its population, and the new study underscores how effective the vaccine is, as the data nearly matches Pfizer's Phase three clinical trial that showed the vaccine to be 95% effective.