The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” St. Mary’s County Public Schools are starting with at-home “virtual” (online) instruction. Why?
The decision, whether public schools can reopen to the pre-COVID normal of five days per week of in-class instruction, should have begun with a risk assessment. For example, it is a fact that children are at low risk — a cumulative total in the county as of July 23 of only 88 cases in a population of over 18,000 school-age children — and they are not carriers of the disease. They do not need to be protected from each other or non-symptomatic adults by social distancing on school buses and in classrooms and the wearing of masks.
It is a fact that adults age 20 to 59 are susceptible to the disease (67% of statewide cases) but with a low risk of death (less than 1%). It is a fact that adults age 60 and older, not living in senior care facilities, are susceptible (7% of statewide cases) and at a higher risk of death. Teachers and staff are at the greatest risk of contracting the disease from each other, but not from the students.
It is only necessary to implement health safety measures to protect the most vulnerable — the teachers and staff — to reopen the schools. They should wear N95 respirator masks, practice social distancing, frequently wash their hands, and have their temperatures monitored. However, the teachers’ union and school bureaucracy appear determined to create a so-called “new normal” for their self-interests using the scare tactic of the “children’s safety.” Reopening the public schools is not a threat to overwhelming the state’s hospitalization capacity, the stated purpose of all interventions.
This situation would not exist if Governor Larry Hogan had not misguidedly and unnecessarily closed the public schools. Seasonal influenza is a more significant health threat than COVID-19 to students, teachers, and staff, but the public schools do not shut-down for the flu. One symptom of COVID-19 is a loss of common sense.