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New school guidelines around COVID-19: What parents need to know

March 25, 2021

About the Author

photo of Claire McCarthy, MD

Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition to being a senior faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. McCarthy … See Full Bio
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March 1, 2021

I can understand to a point…but how are teachers any different from grocery store cashiers, servers in restaurants, health care workers, etc. We are exposed to hundreds of people a day and yet we still show up for the job with our masks on. Children in my state haven’t been to school in a year…it’s time that they get back to the classroom before any more damage is done.

March 4, 2021

How are they different? Grocery workers and restaurant workers do not spend hours exposed to the same individuals every day- they have fleeting encounters that typically don’t qualify as ‘close contact’. The chance of becoming infected from a carrier in a few minutes is very low. The chance of becoming infected from a carrier around you for several hours, multiple days in a row, is very high. Grocery stores and restaurants are much larger spaces with greater air flow than classrooms. Grocery workers and servers are dealing primarily with adults that are capable of following basic instructions and guidelines. Many school age children are not and require adult assistance to do so- from the teacher. Children are much more likely to be asymptomatic. This makes them more likey to continue to attend school and infect others over longer periods of time because they or their parents dont realize they have the virus. Shoppers at stores are typically adults who are more likey to get symptoms when infected and then stay home.

As for health care workers– students dont imminently die if the teacher is not physically with them.

Store shelves cannot be stocked remotely. Food cannot be cooked remotely. Dishes cannot be washed or tables cleared remotely. Vital signs cannot be taken remotely. Injections cannot be administered remotely. Teaching can be done remotely. It may be slightly degraded and has some drawbacks- but it can largely be done.

And lets be real- while normal in-person classrooms may be far better than remote learning, that is not the option that is even on the table if you go back now. COVID in-person means masks and social distancing. Most of the teaching practices that would make in-person learning better than remote (small group discussion, teacher circulating and checking over your shoulder etc) cannot happen in a COVID classroom. Normal in-person classrooms may be best, but COVID in-person is so constrained it is arguable that remote tools may provide a better education.

But then lets be honest. People arent demanding teachers return to the classroom for education, are they. What people really want is that thing teachers provide that cannot be done remotely– child care. Most people just dont want to admit it (but many are starting to or getting real close). Its become very clear that the main social benefit from schools that adults care about is child care. We could save a lot of money if we stopped hiring trained and educated professional teachers and just hired high school grads with basic common sense to provide day care services.

Stephanie E
February 28, 2021

As a high school teacher is Washington State, I am getting ready to head back to school in a hybrid model.

You speak of flexibility and that not all schools or districts have access to the same resources mostly due to finances. Our Governor is not using the new guidelines, and we are returning to school with a community spread of transmission rate of 137 / 100,000, and a 7 day % of positive COVID-19 tests at 14%.

Our back to school hybrid plan has students going to 3 different classes daily. The classes are 85 minutes in length with 5 minute transitions. Our HVAC is set at a minimum of 13% outdoor air let in and the rest recirculated. The filters used are MERV 7. We have been informed that we are allow students to eat in the classroom during class which will involve temporary unmasking. They are attempting to keep desks 6 feet apart “as much as possible.”

In my opinion, this is not a safe return plan. My community is ignoring the governor’s mandates. Many churches are operating at full capacity, and our two local gyms have openly stated that they will not close, limit capacity, or require masks. Our grocery stores will request for patrons to mask, but do not enforce it. Thus, you regularly see unmasked shoppers at the store.

This is what is happening in my community. We are offered no place to air our concerns. If we object, we are vilified. Teachers are being asked to take unneeded risk because none of the recommendations are mandates. Until there are mandated requirements, schools will sacrifice their teachers to please politicians and parents.

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