WASHINGTON -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release guidance on school reopenings in the coming week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday, amid rising tensions about how best to send students and teachers back into the classroom.
"Among the things that we need to do to make sure that schools are safe is to make sure that the community spread of the disease is down," Walensky said during a White House briefing.
She continued: "We are actively working on the guidance, the official guidance, which will be released in the week ahead."
The guidance will come amid a national debate about when and how to reopen schools safely, as fear of spreading the coronavirus has closed them and forced classes online amid the pandemic.
President Joe Biden has said he will work to reopen most K-12 schools within his first 100 days in office but has stressed he will rely on health and medical experts to dictate the national guidance in order to reopen safely.
The White House initially distanced itself from Walensky's comments earlier in the week suggesting that schools could safely reopen without teachers getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
Walensky said during a White House briefing on Wednesday, "There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen. And that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Walensky was speaking "in her personal capacity" and that although Walensky was the head of the CDC, the agency hadn't issued its official guidance yet.
But on Friday, Psaki appeared aligned with Walensky's comments, saying vaccinations are only part of several mitigating factors that will help schools reopen safely.
"There are several mitigating factors that we've seen in data to date that will help make it safe," Psaki said in a White House briefing.
"Of course, vaccines are part of that, but so is masking, so is social distancing, so is ensuring that schools have the ventilation and the facilities that they need in order to do it safely," Psaki said.
Some teacher unions are resisting reopening some schools amid fears of teachers getting infected with COVID-19.
The Chicago Teachers Union has told its members to be prepared to go on strike if the school district retaliates for teachers choosing to continue teaching online, as Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson and other school officials say it's time to get everyone back into the classroom.
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, cautioned that reopening most schools within 100 days "may not happen," as the US continues to grapple with high COVID-19 transmission.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has also said Biden's goal may need to be reassessed depending on how the coronavirus is spreading over the next few months.
More than 456,400 Americans have died from coronavirus as of Friday afternoon, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. About 35.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, and about 6.9 million Americans have received the two doses of the vaccine.
Twenty-four states plus Washington, DC, are allowing some or all of their teachers and school staff to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The President has signed several executive actions to help support reopening schools and establish a national strategy to get the pandemic under control. Biden is pushing Congress to approve another $170 billion for K-12 schools, colleges and universities to help them operate safely in person or facilitate remote learning, as part of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
Congress approved $82 billion in aid for schools in December, which Biden has said he views as a "down payment."
This story has been updated with additional information.