Yesterday, photos from the first day of school in two different Georgia school districts revealed the startling reality that "safe" school reopenings aren't happening in some areas. Now it's come to light that one of those same school districts had a positive case in an elementary school classroom on the first day of school, proving that opening schools in an uncontrolled pandemic is simply not going to work.
According to WSVN News, a second grader at Sixes Elementary in the Cherokee County School District tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday. On Tuesday, the classroom was closed for cleaning and all 20 students in the class as well as the teacher began a two-week quarantine at home.
Just one day of school, and an entire class has already been shut down for the next two weeks, at least.
Cherokee County School District "encourages" students to wear masks, but does not require it. (It's worth noting that Cherokee County School District has a dress code for students, which says students must cover their shoulders, can't wear pants or skirts with frayed ends or pant legs that touch the floor, and must wear "appropriate undergarments" that no one will ever see—but they won't require students to wear a mask during a pandemic. Seriously.)
Opening schools in an area where the virus is not under control is already a risky undertaking. Opening without very strict protocols in place—a mask mandate being one of the most basic—is simply foolish. The World Health Organization has recommended delaying reopening plans until an area has a lower than 5% positivity rate with coronavirus testing. Currently, Georgia's positivity rate is higher than 12%—nowhere near what they should be in order to even consider reopening.
No one denies that students learning in person is important. No one denies that schools provide a much-needed service for many families. No one denies that there are no easy decisions and that schools and families are largely stuck between a rock and a hard place. But no one can deny that in-person schooling under the circumstances in many areas of the U.S. simply won't work. We have too many cases. We don't have the virus under control enough to do the testing and contact tracing necessary to make school reopenings actually work without constant disruption.
This classroom had to shut down for two weeks after the first day. That will have to happen every time a student or teacher tests positive—imagine the disruption that will cause throughout the school year as the virus continues spreading. If cases were low enough, it could be doable with mitigation measures in place. But at the peak of the outbreak, without stringent safety measures in place? Come on. No one is fooling anyone but themselves.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has encouraged school reopenings if they can be done safely. President Trump tweets in all-caps "OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!" with no additional direction on how and when and where to do so safely. We know that children can get and spread this disease. We know that schools are petri dishes for the spread of all kinds of viruses. We know that teachers have expressed concern about reopening without clear safety protocols in place.
And we can guess what the outcome will be in these school districts that are allowing students to come to class without masks, gather for school photos without masks or social distancing, and crowd high school hallways as if life goes on as normal. It's not good. Not for Georgia, and not for the U.S. as a whole.
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