Reopening, Safety

Letter to Superintendent Duffy from local health-care professionals

February 19, 2021

A number of health care professionals from our area have helped write and sign a letter to superintendent Duffy and the board:

Dear Superintendent Duffy,

We write to you today as WCCUSD families and as public health and medical professionals. Since last March, many of us have been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and have firsthand experience with this disease. We know how to protect against it and we have battled it’s mental health and physical health impacts. We are asking you to open our public schools to full-time in-person education as soon as possible. We firmly believe the learning loss and mental health crisis we are witnessing compel urgent action.

As physicians, scientists, and public health professionals, we rely heavily on evidence and research to guide our practice. Early on, we assumed that children would be the primary drivers of viral spread. At that time, school closures seemed prudent. This assumption has since been disproven. It is now clear that schools can safely provide in-person instruction with appropriate safety measures in place. A recent report from the CDC affirms this fact.

Many schools across the nation have been open for months and we can learn from their experience. These data include similarly funded public districts with similar class sizes and disease prevalence higher than our own. Schools that have reopened successfully have implemented universal masking, basic hand hygiene, classroom ventilation, and physical distancing. These districts have proven that distancing of three feet when children are static such as desk time and eating is safe. Vaccinations, universal COVID testing, extensive infrastructure changes, and keeping children six feet apart are not required for a safe school environment.

As healthcare workers, we understand the fear of infection and transmission to our families and loved ones. We have witnessed the efficacy of universal masking and hand hygiene when working with known COVID-positive patients. We are eager to offer our collective experience in risk mitigation to support school reopening.

While even the best mitigation measures cannot guarantee absolute safety in schools, it is very clear that isolating children at home is not safe. Every day, we are treating more children with serious mental illnesses. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has seen a doubling of the number of children requiring mental health services from 2019 to 2020 and a 75% increase in the number of children requiring immediate hospitalization for mental health crises. There has been a 130% increase in the number of adolescents hospitalized for eating disorders. Our local pediatric psychiatric hospital beds are full and children are waiting days in Emergency Departments for beds to open up. The sad truth is that this may be the tip of the iceberg and these numbers likely represent the “lucky” ones that are reaching out for help. In public health and medicine, there are always trade-off’s between one risk and another. For the vast majority of students, the benefits of in-person school greatly outweigh the risks.

Remote learning has been a disaster, especially for disadvantaged students. Many children have been “lost” to the system and those that are attending aren’t learning much. A Stanford study found that the average student has fallen behind a third of a year in reading and three quarters of a year in math. This is not surprising. Their current virtual school schedule is 13 and a half hours a week compared to 29 hours a week pre- pandemic. It is clear that this situation has disproportionately impacted poor and black and brown students. Moreover, this affects women disproportionately, as they provide the majority of childcare, often at the expense of their careers.

Parents with resources have augmented what is available with tutors, extra books, and supplemental on-line classes. Many have fled public schools altogether for private schools that have opened in-person instruction.

We implore you to make every effort to reopen schools now, with a clear goal of having kids in school five days a week with normal school hours.

Specifically, we are asking you to:

1. Commit to fully re-open schools for in-person instruction.

2. Put a computer with a camera in the classroom so students that elect to attend school virtually or students that are ill or in quarantine can participate.

3. Enforce public health recommendations to open the schools as the CDC and California Department of Public Health guidelines dictate.

4. Commit to transparency and accountability so that teachers and families can trust that their safety needs will be met.

5. Promote facts and good science in your own communications rather than giving equal time to various fear based or political views. Address legitimate fears with evidence-based facts.

Our children are watching to see if we will live up to the values we espouse. Their future depends on our ability to do so.

Sincerely,

Christine O’Brien, MD
Sophia Chen
Jennifer Bodnick, MD
Marlena Tang, MD
Brian Lin, MD
Peter Emblad, MD
Jimmy Choi, MD
Kai Romero MD
Corinne McLeary, MD
Scott Guyon, MD
Prakash Ramsinghani, MD
Adrian Flores, MD MPH
Beth Mulcahy, MD
Lisa Wu, MD

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