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Walensky on Whether CDC Failed on Schools: I Wasn’t There ‘When Schools Were Closed’

On Friday’s broadcast of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky responded to a question on whether the handling of schools during the coronavirus pandemic was a failure by the CDC by stating that she was “not in the CDC when schools were closed.” And that “starting in January 2021, I have said, and continued to say, schools should be the first place to open and the last place to close.”

After Walensky talked about her review of the agency’s response to the pandemic, host Steve Inskeep asked, [relevant exchange begins around 3:30] “I know you want to look forward here, I would imagine, but of course, you also have to look back, and that’s what the review was. And I want to ask about one specific part of the response.” Inskeep then played a clip of Anya Kamenetz’s criticism of the agency before asking, “Dr. Walensky, do you accept that that was one of the CDC’s failures?”

Walensky responded, “Well, certainly, I was not in the CDC when schools were closed. But let me tell you, what I think people were thinking at the time, which is one of the areas — especially in other respiratory viruses, where there’s high rates of fatalities among children. And so, keeping the schools closed — or closing them originally was really intended to buy a little time to learn about how this respiratory virus was going to spread. I will say that, starting in January 2021, I have said, and continued to say, schools should be the first place to open and the last place to close. So, it had to be the place that we focused to make sure, if nothing else was working, we needed, first, to get our children back to school. We needed it to be a safe place for our children, for our teachers, for our staff.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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