Doctors Agree With Teachers: State Not Doing Enough to Make Schools Safe

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) support the Utah Education Association (UEA) in calling for a delay in opening up Utahs public schools.  While the research that enlightens us about how the virus is spread is still evolving, it appears that children and teenagers older than ten years old are as likely to spread the virus as adults, even if they are at much lower risk for a serious outcome.  

We have seen that premature opening of the economy in many states has only served to create crisis level spread.  There is every reason to assume that opening up schools in the setting of persistently high rates of infection will do the same.

Unless detailed and strict plans are drawn up for optimizing the safety and protection of children and school employees, opening up schools will only accelerate the spread of the virus throughout the community, potentially greatly so, forcing a repeat of school shut downs or worse. 

Under inadequate precautions, teachers will be unable to be effective if they are constantly in fear of contracting a potentially serious or deadly disease.  Furthermore, if many teachers feel their work place is unsafe, understandably, they will not go back to work at all, which will lead to even larger class sizes, and an even more dangerous work environment.

“A core tenet of infectious disease management is:  a pandemic anywhere means a pandemic everywhere. That’s why opening up schools without statewide, consistent, careful, and extensive precautions not only threaten teachers and staff, but is likely to ignite a new wave of infection throughout the entire community,” said  Dr. Brian Moench, UPHE President. 

We feel that extensive recommendations from the Harvard School of Public Health should be followed as much as possible, but that at a minimum Utah schools should do the following: 

  1. Mandatory masks for all students, teachers, and employees, in addition to face shields for employees that interact with students.
  2. Increase outdoor air ventilation.  Open windows for all class rooms where possible, outside classes where possible, especially music and physical education. 
  3. Filter indoor air.  Stand alone air purifiers should be supplied for every classroom.
  4. Class size limitation and desk positioning consistent with appropriate social distancing.
  5. Adequate supply of hand and surface disinfectants.  Strict policy of hand hygiene performed repeatedly in all classes.
  6. Sports and activities that require close proximity to other students, like football, soccer, wrestling, basketball, choir and dance should be temporarily suspended.