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Teachers union head: Yes, we gave the CDC language for its guidance on school reopenings

I’ll defer to Washington apparatchiks on how common it is for a stakeholder to supply input to an agency that ends up being reproduced verbatim in administrative regulations, as seems to have happened here. But having the teachers union dictating CDC policy on schools after they battled for a year to keep kids out of class feels to righties what it must feel like to lefties to have oil company lobbyists writing EPA rules.

When the fox is in the henhouse, you expect him to fill his belly.

The New York Post broke the news about this a few weeks ago. On the one hand, there’s nothing unusual about an agency consulting with interested parties in setting policy to make sure all concerns are accounted for. On the other hand, the union isn’t any ol’ interested party. It’s an enormously powerful Democratic constituency and it’s acted as a stumbling block to school reopening until very recently. From the beginning of the Biden administration, the White House was making sure that the CDC didn’t get too far ahead of the unions on schools. Only last week, 15 months into the pandemic, did union chief Randi Weingarten finally make it clear that the AFT supports having kids back in class five days a week this fall.

Rory Cooper noted earlier today that Arlington, Virginia recorded zero new cases of COVID yesterday — zero — and yet schools there are still mostly closed. That’s your local union at work, aided and abetted by an unhealthy degree of caution about the risk of COVID in schools among Democratic parents.

The strangest thing about the union supplying language to the CDC for its guidance is that, according to the Post, the subjects it addressed were so banal that one would think the agency wouldn’t need any input from the AFT about it. Quote:

With the CDC preparing to write that schools could provide in-person instruction regardless of community spread of the virus, [AFT exec Kelly] Trautner argued for the inclusion of a line reading “In the event of high community-transmission results from a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, a new update of these guidelines may be necessary.” That language appeared on page 22 of the final CDC guidance.

The AFT also demanded special remote work concessions for teachers “who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for … COVID-19,” and that similar arrangements should extend to “staff who have a household member” with similar risks. A lengthy provision for that made it into the text of the final guidance.

Was there ever any question that the CDC would update its guidance for schools if a new variant made its way here that threatened vaccinated teachers or children? Or that teachers with health problems should be given special accommodations by their schools? If that really does represent the extent of AFT input on the CDC’s guidance then the “scandal” is why the agency needed input on basic, basic boilerplate. There’s no issue with that guidance; the issue is the suspicion Republicans justly feel at the CDC and union working hand in glove behind the scenes after the union did everything it could over the past year to prevent kids from getting back into class in a timely way.

Hopefully it’ll put Weingarten’s (and everyone else’s) mind at ease to learn that the latest scary variant, the one from India, appears to be susceptible to the vaccines in the lab:

These data imply that the new variants, B.1.617 and B.1.618 may be a little more slippery in their ability to wriggle away from natural and vaccine-induced antibodies, but not enough that those antibodies are rendered ineffective. In particular, most people who have recovered from infection or have been vaccinated are likely to have antibodies that are good enough to provide protection (the true clinical effect of the monoclonal antibodies among the “original” or “wildtype” variants remains debated). Interestingly, the measured antibody levels among vaccinated persons were about 5 times greater than those found among samples of blood taken from covid-19-recovered persons. This once again demonstrates that vaccines induce a massive antibody response, which is likely what makes them so effective to begin with and also explains in part why they have, so far, been remarkably able to overcome an onslaught of variants. That said, the strength of the binding between the B.1.617 variant and vaccine-induced antibodies dropped 4-fold in this laboratory-based study. A 2.7-fold decrease was noted for the B.1.618 variant.

By the way, the latest data from Brown University’s ongoing study of infections in schools finds just nine cases of COVID per 100,000 students and staff. That’s the lowest rate for staff since Brown began tracking the data last August. And yet, in all but two states (at last check), some kids still aren’t back in class.