When the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force updated the nation on the state of the pandemic last week, it offered bleak news: cases are rapidly rising. At the same time, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence highlighted the fact he believes schools should stay open.
“We do not support closing schools,” Pence said.
Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director added that in schools is where students should be at this time.
“The fact is the truth is for kids K through 12, the safest place they can be is in schools,” Dr. Redfield said.
Dr. Redfield spoke about how statistically people are less likely to get sick in schools than in the overall community.
“I believe strongly that we need schools to open in communities whose data indicate it’s safe to do so,” Dr. Redfield said of opening schools.
However, not all agree.
“That is not nearly that simple,” said Deanna Barash, West Bloomfield Schools Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning.
Her district, like others, heard from some parents who said the vice president and CDC said schools should open. She acknowledges schools overall have done a great job preventing the spread of the virus in their buildings, but says what happens in the community impacts schools.
As COVID-19 rates increased in Oakland County, more students and staff came to school in the county sick and the health department took longer and longer to complete contact tracing.
“They, before schools started to close, were seeing 800 cases a day in schools, which means 8,000 contact tracings they have to do on average,” Barash said.
Schools had to perform contact tracing on their own, or decide whether to stay open with people unaware they were potentially exposed. Many schools closed while contact tracing was completed.
“At the core, we all believe the same thing. We all know kids being in school is what best for kids,” said Margaret Schultz, director of Instructional Equity in Bloomfield Hills Schools.
Schulz says schools know this is not ideal and that students will need support in the future because of it but people are assuming decisions are political, forgetting a completely apolitical fact.
“If you don’t have staff, you can’t open the building,” said Supt. Patrick Watson of Bloomfield Hills Schools.
Supt. Watson says before the district went from in-person to K through 12 distance learning, it closed Bloomfield Hills High School. Like other schools, it had lost about 20% of its teachers at once to quarantine because they were showing possible symptoms or had been exposed to someone else who was sick.
“As the case rate goes up that means more and more people are going to be exposed to someone who is COVID positive, therefore requiring more and more people to be in quarantine,” Supt. Watson said.
Watson says many may have become so focused on talking about COVID-19 data in schools, such case rates, PPE levels, and safety protocols, that it is possible many have missed an important piece of the puzzle that is running a school in a pandemic: staffing.
The message from school leaders is that it is important everyone in the community work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19, if the goal is to have all schools open for in-person learning.
Additional Coronavirus information and resources:
Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.
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