Pediatrician, Epidemiologist Weigh in on In-Class Instruction

We should not take risks unless we mitigate those risks and that, I think, is worth it,” said Dr. Taras

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Many families are eager to get students back into a classroom, but some local medical experts believe it’s too soon.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether it’s safe to begin in-class instruction. The county prohibits in-class instruction, but the state is offering a waiver program for pre-K through 6th-grade schools. If a school meets specific criteria, depending on COVID-19 cases in the county, the school could reopen for in-class learning.

“As a pediatrician, I’m very worried about child development, child education, and child abuse,” said Howard Taras, M.D. Tara is a pediatrician and staff at UCSD’s School of Medicine. He told NBC 7, there is a safe way to return to the classroom.

“As an epidemiologist, I’m looking at the population as a whole. I tend to be a bit more cautious,” said Kimberly C. Brouwer, Ph.D. She also works at UCSD’s School of Medicine. The experts agree, students benefit from in-person instruction, but would like to see community spread in San Diego county to decrease before opening all schools.

“It’s a disease that has very severe consequences and has a way of being transmitted very rapidly,” Brouwer said.

According to data, Brouwer and Taras said the transmission has been less likely to spread among young children.

“I’m thinking (transmission) from adult to children and adult to adult is probably going to be a more common problem,” Taras said.

“Although, they’ve looked at viral levels in children of all ages and they do have pretty high viral loads, so the potential for transmission is there,” added Brouwer. She is also concerned about the traditional classroom setting. “It’s not just spacing. It’s the duration of time together and eventually, you can get virus transmission in any indoor setting.”

Taras said there are ways to return to the classroom while implementing safety protocols eventually.

“We have many tools in schools now. Everyone wearing face coverings, distancing, ventilation,” Taras said. “I’m happy that there is a waiver system. I’d like to see some schools open. It’s a very stringent program."

But Brouwer said it’s too soon, even if a school qualifies for the program. She’s also advising against neighbors' schooling together. Taras is more open to community pods learning together but said each person must practice physical distancing, mask-wearing, and not mixing outside of their pod.  

Brouwer and Taras agreed it’s too soon to reopen all schools for in-class instruction and look for a decline in cases before doing so.

“We should not take risks unless we mitigate those risks and that I think that is worth it,” Taras said.

Brouwer said she would like the county to be below the watch-list metrics before students are allowed back in class.

“A little bit extra time will make a huge amount of difference in our case,” said Brouwer.

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