Presenting or Spinning Facts? Deconstructing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Statement on the Importance of Reopening Schools Under COVID-19

Habib Benzian, Marilyn Johnston, Nicole Stauf, Richard Niederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Credible, reliable and consistent information to the public, as well as health professionals and decision makers, is crucial to help navigate uncertainty and risk in times of crisis and concern. Traditionally, information and health communications issued by respected and established government agencies have been regarded as factual, unbiased and credible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is such an agency that addresses all aspects of health and public health on behalf of the U.S Government for the benefit of its citizens. In July 2020, the CDC issued guidelines on reopening schools which resulted in open criticism by the U.S. President and others, prompting a review and publication of revised guidelines together with a special “Statement on the Importance of Reopening Schools under COVID-19.” We hypothesize that this statement introduced bias with the intention to shift the public perception and media narrative in favor of reopening of schools. Using a mixed methods approach, including an online text analysis tool, we demonstrate that document title and structure, word frequencies, word choice, and website presentation did not provide a balanced account of the complexity and uncertainty surrounding school reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite available scientific guidance and practical evidence-based advice on how to manage infection risks when reopening schools, the CDC Statement was intentionally overriding possible parent and public health concerns. The CDC Statement provides an example of how political influence is exercised over the presentation of science in the context of a major pandemic. It was withdrawn by the CDC in November 2020.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number645229
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Volume9
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 9 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • disaster communication
  • pandemic mitigation
  • political bias
  • public health guidance
  • reopening
  • school safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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