Walensky said there is a growing body of evidence to suggest schools can safely reopen without vaccinated teachers.
"Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools," she said during a White House COVID-19 briefing Wednesday. Jeffrey Zients, COVID-19 response coordinator, reiterated President Biden’s strong desire to reopen schools.
"That means that every school has the equipment and resources to open safely, not just private schools or schools in wealthy areas, but all schools," Zients said. "And that’s why we need the American Rescue Plan passed now."
President Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan costs $1.9 trillion, and includes funding for schools’ virus testing, ventilation, PPE and proper sanitization. As of last week, 38% of K-12 public schools were still offering "virtual only" classes. About 38% are attending fully in-person sessions, and the rest are on a hybrid schedule, according to Burbio, which scrapes school websites for data.
Tension is building on school systems nationwide to reopen classrooms, as many teachers have yet to be vaccinated. In Chicago, the rancor is so great that teachers are on the brink of striking. In California, a frustrated Gov. Gavin Newsom implored schools to find a way to reopen. In Cincinnati, some students returned to classrooms Tuesday after a judge threw out a teachers union lawsuit over safety concerns.
While some communities maintain that online classes remain the safest option for everyone, some parents, with backing from politicians and administrators, have complained that their children’s education is suffering from sitting at home in front of their computers and that the isolation is damaging them emotionally.
Federal recommendations for vaccine prioritizations group teachers in Phase 1B with other essential workers and older adults. The guidance previously set forth by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is just a recommendation, however, and states ultimately decide how to prioritize their vaccines.
Recent findings from the CDC, published in JAMA Network, found coronavirus transmission at schools was very low when mask-wearing and social distancing measures were taken.
Fox News' Morgan Phillips and the Associated Press contributed to this report.