The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued sweeping school reopening guidelines Friday using a color-coded system that provides recommendations corresponding to the spread of COVID-19 in communities.
The move comes after President Joe Biden pledged in December to resume in-person learning at a majority of the nation's schools in his first 100 days in office, making it one of his top priorities.
In the new color-coded system, blue represents low transmission and yellow signifies moderate transmission. For both, the CDC suggests full in-person learning and as much social distancing as possible.
Low-transmission zones are defined as having 0-9 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Moderate-transmission zones have 10-49 cases.
Orange represents substantial transmission: 50-99 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. For orange areas, the CDC is recommending hybrid or reduced attendance with required distancing.
Red is for the highest transmission zones, where cases are higher than 100 per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Schools that regularly test staff and students in red zones should have hybrid learning plans or required distancing, the CDC says.
For red-zone schools that do not regularly test, the CDC recommends that elementary schools have limited in-person lessons with required distancing and that middle and high schools have virtual learning only.
Most counties in Maryland are in the orange to red zones. Prince George's County has had 143 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Montgomery County has had 104.
D.C. is also in the red zone with about 113 cases in the last seven days per 100,000 people. Fairfax County is also in the red zone with about 150 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.
Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia
COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia
The CDC guidelines also suggest masks and safety measures, more resources in underserved communities, prioritizing teachers for vaccinations and accommodating high-risk teachers with virtual teaching or flexible schedules.
The union representing teachers and staff in Prince George's County, Maryland, said it welcomes the CDC guidelines.
"Especially in high risk communities where you have a high spread rate," said Theresa Dudley of the Prince George's County Educators’ Association. "The positivity rate in Prince George's County is 7% so that's relatively high."
Prince George's County is expected to announce its school reopening date next week. All other counties will be open by March 1.
Montgomery County will reopen schools to a small group of students March 1, with the vast majority heading back to class March 15.
Montgomery County officials tell NBC Washington they are reviewing the new CDC guidelines and will assess what it means for their reopening plans.
Fairfax County Public Schools issued a statement in response to the CDC's new guidance.
“In response to new federal reopening guidance announced today, FCPS is in the early stages of analyzing the new guidelines to learn how or if they might impact our operational plans,” FCPS' statement read.
FCPS currently plans to resume in-person learning starting February 16.
Meanwhile, many students and parents say they are looking forward to getting back to the normalcy of in-person learning.
"I really want to go back to school," said Harper Chmara, a Montgomery County middle school student. "I feel like I've been home too long."
Amy Chmara, Harper's mother said, "I'm super supportive of her going back to school."