One of the fundamental criteria necessary for reopening schools is for community prevalence of COVID-19 to be low, say public health experts. Even better, we now have the benefit of knowledge gathered from the many countries that have reopened schools since the pandemic began.
Based on what we’ve seen from those countries, low community prevalence is the first step for successful and safe school openings. Given the significant increase across the country and in our state of COVID-19 cases, we need a plan for the fall.
The plan must address controlling the outbreak of COVID-19 now. No other country has reopened schools with the unbridled, out-of-control spread like we have. And if we’re not careful, we will be hurling towards an unmitigated disaster. As Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Lee Norman said, "Schools are not safe islands in an unsafe community."
The impact of children on the spread of COVID-19 isn’t fully understood. For instance, one-third of children tested in Florida had positive results, suggesting children could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
This adds another layer of potential concern for policymakers and school communities: Children could spread COVID-19 to their households and family members — members who may be part of the more vulnerable population to the disease, such as grandparents or those with chronic diseases.
Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order delaying school openings for three weeks whould have provided extra time for infection rates and case numbers to decrease.
"The most important thing for all of us to do to get our kids back to school is to get this outbreak under control," said Sonja Rasmussen, professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Florida.
Despite recommendations like these from medical experts, the Kansas State Board of Education voted against the governor’s mandate of keeping schools closed until after Labor Day. School districts will now decide individually about when to open schools.
Schools certainly serve children and communities in far more ways than instruction — schools are the centerpieces of many communities across our state. However, despite the benefits of school for children, voting to rescind the governor’s order does not keep anyone safer: not children, not teachers and not the community.
It is not in anyone’s best interest and instead will actively harm the same community members schools usually help.
As a physician and a parent, I am deeply disappointed that the board ignored the recommendation of the experts. Its decision is reckless and endangers the lives of students, faculty, families and all Kansans.
Ximena M. Garcia, M.D., is a retired physician who lives in Topeka.