A former Planned Parenthood president and public health professional argued in a Thursday op-ed for The Washington Post that the rise in cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant is not a reason to keep schools closed.
Dr. Leana Wen argued “both sides [of the school reopening debate] are wrong,” in her op-ed. “let’s agree that schools are essential and then work to reduce risk to get students back to in-person learning,” Wen wrote.
Wen called it “astounding” that governors in states like Texas, Georgia and Iowa are fighting against school mask mandates and that Florida’s surgeon general is discouraging testing in schools, attributing ” “low vaccine uptake among children” to “rampant right-wing disinformation.”
“Left-wing activists are pushing for schools to remain closed,” Wen wrote. “Chicago’s teachers union has successfully shut down in-person instruction in the city, even though more than 90 percent of school staff are fully vaccinated, indoor masking is required and the city is recording less than half the deaths than during previous peaks.”
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) canceled classes for a third consecutive day Friday with the exception of “a small number of schools [that] may be able to offer in-person activities for students,” the district said in a statement. “Please do not plan to send your child to school unless you hear otherwise from your child’s principal.”
“The union is insisting on remote learning until a host of demands are met, including testing of all students and teachers and a lower than 10 percent citywide test positivity rate,” Wen said. “Neither side is following the science.”
The former Planned Parenthood president cited studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that show schools can be “some of the safest places in terms of covid-19.”
Research from North Carolina, Utah and Missouri has shown that there is a limited amount of school-related transmission in districts that put protective measures in place, even when there is a high community infection rate, Wen said.
Wen’s own 4-year-old son is back at in-person preschool, but she said she wishes he was vaccinated along with all of his classmates and teachers. But “that’s not reality,” she wrote. “We cannot wait for every condition to be met when the cost of keeping kids out of school has already inflicted grave harm.”
Wen echoed the concerns of many in-person learning advocates, including that keeping kids out of the classroom creates educational disparities and mental health problems for children and adolescents, a phenomenon that the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a state of emergency.
“If the rest of society is not locking down, then we shouldn’t shut down schools, either,” Wen concluded. “Children and their families cannot keep paying the price for extremist positions on both sides.”
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