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It’s up to all of us to get students back in the classroom.

We know not opening schools for traditional classroom learning is tough news for students, parents, teachers and school staff, but the virus left us no choice. Community transmission is widespread and accelerating in the county. We know COVID-19 affects every geographic area of our community, all age groups, and all ethnic groups.

We reported our 14 highest single-day case counts in July—with more than 100 cases on 5 of those days, and 11 deaths the past week. If students were to return to in-person instruction in the fall, rates of transmission in schools—and in the homes of children and school staff—could escalate.

Already, with limited school activities happening over the last couple of weeks, we have seen a few positive COVID-19 cases pop up associated with schools. With each positive case that person’s close contacts must quarantine and possibly get tested while they wait to see what’s next on their personal health horizon.

We hear you.

In the wake of my recommendation, we heard both praise and concerns from parents, teachers and residents across the county.

You asked questions and raised concern about:

  • How working parents will provide childcare for their children.
  • The quality of online education and difficulty for children with special needs.
  • Varying recommendations from CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Articles suggesting low spread of COVID-19 and deaths in children. 
  • How daycare is different than school.

Empty classroom

If we reopen schools, we must do it safely.

I share the belief that in-person learning is important for the healthy development and well-being of children and for social, mental, emotional, and economic health of families, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff.

We work closely with our school administrators and educators, who provided input into this recommendation for no in-person instruction at this time. We know our school partners need to make decisions for the fall now.

In the meantime, school districts should continue to plan for classroom teaching options so they can implement swiftly when our level of disease transmission decreases. We are hopeful we will have better news in the weeks ahead that could lead us to change the recommendation.

We must consider current level of disease transmission in our community.

While COVID-19 affects children less severely than older adults in the short term, we know:

  • They do get infected.
  • They can spread it to other children and adults.
  • Some have died.
  • Some will develop a rare, severe immunologic syndrome.
  • We don’t know the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on children’s health.
  • Countries have reopened schools, but suffered resurgent, widespread community transmission and outbreaks infecting thousands of students and staff.

We all must take responsibility.

What can we do to get children back in school? Superintendent Janel Keating Hambly of the White River School District framed the challenge well in a recent message to her school district community:

“There is some really good news about this, however. WE have the power to change this… Each of us is a respected member of this community. If we stand together, we can help change the trajectory of this virus in our community and in Pierce County.

“The reality of our lives today is that we are not going to be able to go back to face to face instruction until the Pierce County infection rate goes down. To that end, I am asking for your help. Not for me, but for us. For our coworkers and our kids… .

“The things that we are being asked to do to prevent spread aren’t hard. If we work together, we will get through this a lot easier and a lot quicker.”

Everyone should take these steps to protect the people you care about:

  • Stay close to home.
  • Wear a mask when you leave home.
  • Limit your interactions to a small circle of friends and family.
  • Keep gatherings small, and outside if possible where fresh air circulates.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others. Wear a mask when you cannot maintain 6 feet of space.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing symptoms, are a member of a heavily impacted community—Black, Latinx, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Island, American Indian, Alaska Native—or have participated in any gatherings—social, civic, business, political, athletic or otherwise.
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation.

It’s up to all of us to get students back in the classroom. It can be done. Let’s work together to make that happen.

Learn more about what you can do to stop the spread and share these messages with others. Visit tpchd.org/mask.