Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health Committee, participated in a hearing titled, “School Reopening During COVID-19: Supporting Students, Educators, and Families.” Senator Collins questioned U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona about fully reopening schools and inconsistent public health guidance.
During the hearing, Senator Collins discussed the promising “test-to-stay” approach that allows asymptomatic students who test negative for COVID-19 to remain in school rather than quarantining after another student or a staff member has tested positive for the virus. A recent study in the peer-reviewed British medical journal The Lancet found that case rates were not significantly higher at schools that allowed close contacts of infected students or staff members to remain in class with daily testing than schools that required students to quarantine at home.
“I think all of us can agree that students suffer when they're not in school. In order to avoid another year of learning loss, emotional turmoil, and behavioral problems, some school districts are implementing a test-to-stay approach,” said Senator Collins. “If our goal is to keep schools open, it seems to me that we should be looking at the science. Yet, despite the evidence, CDC has said that at this time, they do not recommend or endorse a test-to-stay program, even though the consequences are that thousands of students in this country are once again not in school because of quarantine.”
Senator Collins asked Secretary Cardona, “My question to you is, do you agree with the CDC? Or do you agree with The Lancet study and those school districts that are using a stay-in-school and testing method?”
“I recognize that there is emerging data or studies around this test-to-stay,” Secretary Cardona responded. “As [the CDC’s] guidance changes, we'll implement at the school, but we are going to rely on our health experts who have guided us to the point where we're reopening schools across the country for our students.”
“Well, the problem is that the guidance from our health experts over the past year has been conflicting and inconsistent,” Senator Collins countered. “And that heightens the distrust in these institutions at the time when the public needs to be able to rely upon them. And I think the latest example of this confusing conflicting advice has to do with the booster shots.”
Turning to Secretary Becerra, Senator Collins commented on the turmoil surrounding the Administration’s booster shot policy, which prompted the longtime Director of the Office of Vaccines, Research, and Review at the FDA and her Deputy to leave. She also noted that two public health experts from Brown and Harvard recently wrote in the New York Times that the new federal recommendations for booster shots go "well beyond the data."
“This weekend, the CDC Director commented and conceded the confusion in messaging around who should receive the booster. And this was after she overruled the recommendation of her own Advisory Committee,” Senator Collins said. “How can HHS better ensure that public health agencies in this country at the federal level truly are following the science and produce a consistent reliable message?”
“I think FDA has done a tremendous job with the science that is also evolving with the variant to make sure that we keep Americans safe,” Secretary Becerra replied. “The evidence is in: if you've been vaccinated, chances are you're not going to die. You're probably not going to be hospitalized. If you're unvaccinated…In fact, 99 percent of people dying today are unvaccinated. And so I think between FDA, CDC, all of our different agencies, NIH, and others, we've done the best we can using the science to guide us and staying within the framework of the law.