Washington, D.C.—At a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine to be Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Health Committee, continued to push to fully reopen schools as safely and as quickly as possible.
“About half of the K-12 students are out of school, even as we meet today,” Senator Collins told Dr. Levine. “The studies are showing that low-income children in particular are falling behind academically. We've seen an increase in suicides and mental health problems due to isolation. Social development is being set back. There are very real consequences of children not being in schools, not to mention the extraordinary stress it is placing on many parents.”
Senator Collins referenced a recent column in the Washington Post by two public health experts who were critical of the new CDC school reopening guidelines that recommend spacing students six feet apart. The experts suggested that three feet of distancing from student to student, while keeping adults six feet from everyone else, would be sufficient to allow many classrooms to reopen. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also questioned the CDC’s six-foot rule for children.
Senator Collins asked Dr. Levine, “[W]hat will you do to help us get our children back to school, and do you think that there are ways to safely accommodate [students], including looking at this recommendation for only three feet of spacing, which is a major obstacle now?”
“I think everyone agrees, and certainly as a pediatrician, is that we need to do everything we possibly can to have children safely go back into the classroom, and that it is very, very important,” Dr. Levine said. “I have had the opportunity to read the articles that you mentioned and review the American Academy of Pediatrics statements, and I found them very interesting. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position, I would very much like to work with others at Health and Human Services, to work with Dr. Walensky at the CDC and look really closely at this issue.”
“Thank you because there are a diversity of views of how we can safely open schools and we're really seeing the downside of not having them open,” Senator Collins replied.
Senator Collins previously raised the school reopening issue with Attorney General Becerra at a hearing on his nomination to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Dr. Levine, a pediatrician by training, served as the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health from 2017-2021.