TAMPA BAY – Florida physicians today warned that, without urgent, needed reforms, the state’s schools could be dangerous super-spreader events for COVID-19. In response, they called on Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Trump to put in place robust safety measures to protect students, teachers and faculty before schools reopen in August as COVID-19 continues to ravage the state.
As of Tuesday, the pandemic has killed more than 6,000 people in Florida and sickened more than 440,000. Despite these skyrocketing numbers, DeSantis is sticking to the emergency order he issued on July 6th requiring Florida schools to be physically open for in-person classes five days a week by the end of August.
“As a mother, I join parents across Florida and the nation in urging Gov. DeSantis and President Trump to use every resource to keep children as safe as possible from COVID-19, and as a physician who is on the frontline of this pandemic every day, I want to make very clear that we can take specific, effective steps to improve safety,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, MD, an immunologist and allergist in St. Petersburg. “Science and evidence warn us that putting hundreds of young people, teachers and school staff together in enclosed spaces such as school buildings is an invitation for COVID-19 superspreader events. As such, if we want any hope of resuming in-person learning safely, it is incumbent upon us to take all necessary precautions now to keep our children safe. Gov. DeSantis and President Trump have an opportunity to show the political will and the leadership to make the safety of our children their top priority.”
The safeguards include:
- Rapid-result testing of students and school staff frequently and regularly
- Robust contact tracing programs that quickly and effectively identify exposures and isolate outbreaks
- Use of personal protective equipment including masks, gloves and other necessary items
- Frequent cleaning and sanitization of classrooms and high-touch surface areas, including enough cleaning staff
- Reconfigured or redesigned classroom and building space to facilitate ample social distancing
- Reinforced support staff for students’, teachers’ and school staffs’ emotional wellbeing
- Laptops, internet access and other technology support to accommodate remote learning when needed for low-income students
- Support for working parents who must stay home while their children learn remotely, including paid time off and child care
- Ensuring local school districts can decide when and how to reopen their schools, with data and science-backed benchmarks on community infection rates
“Rather than dictating a blanket order to reopen all schools regardless of community needs and safety threats, our leaders have a responsibility to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn safely, not just those from privileged backgrounds,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, MD, a cardiologist in Miami and Florida State Lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare. “Gov. Ron DeSantis, President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and all elected officials must do the hard work of identifying and implementing safety measures that protect every single child before school resumes. We still have a narrow window of time to act, and as physicians, we urge our leaders in Tallahassee and Washington to act now and protect children, educators, and all their families during the COVID-19 outbreak.”
About 14 percent of individuals under age 18 have tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida, while the overall positivity rate is 19 percent, nearly four times higher than the recommended positivity rate of 5 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University. Of 31,000 patients younger than 18, 303 have been hospitalized, with five deaths reported. These rates don’t bode well for preventing further transmission in Florida, which has five of the nation’s largest 10 public school districts, according to the Census Bureau, serving a total of 1.2 million students. DeSantis and the State of Florida face a lawsuit seeking to block in-person school reopenings.
“Parents should not be forced to choose between letting their children learn and avoiding a potentially deadly virus,” said Dr. Leonardo Alonso, DO, an emergency physician in Jacksonville. “By sending students and school staff back into buildings prematurely and without all the necessary safety precautions in place, we risk turning our schools into virus factories. Children, their teachers, their loved ones and their communities will be exposed to harm, which is even more alarming now that hundreds of thousands of Floridians have lost their employer-based healthcare. We know what we can do to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, and we should do everything in our power to protect Florida families.”
Over 600,000 in Florida have lost their health insurance due to job losses between February and May.
1* Johns Hopkins University: “If a positivity rate is too high, that may indicate that the state is only testing the sickest patients who seek medical attention, and is not casting a wide enough net to know how much of the virus is spreading within its communities. A low rate of positivity in testing data can be seen as a sign that a state has sufficient testing capacity for the size of their outbreak and is testing enough of its population to make informed decisions about reopening.”
About the Committee to Protect Medicare
The Committee to Protect Medicare is an advocacy organization made up of frontline doctors engaging in direct advocacy and communications in support of a stronger healthcare system in America. To learn more: https://committeetoprotect.org/
NOTE: The physicians below are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 29, 2020
Az Ibrahim, 616-227-1940, firstname.lastname@example.org