Safe Reopening: Separating Politics From Science

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Below is an excerpt from UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz’s weekly Facebook Live update on February 5, 2021.

 

Distance learning is tough. Living in this pandemic is brutal. We all want to return to physical schools. But we are getting mixed messages and straight-up misinformation and disinformation. I wish to set the record straight.


To everyone watching and listening right now:  The call to immediately reopen schools for in-person instruction is not motivated by science — it is motivated by politics.


When Gov. Gavin Newsom says schools are safe to reopen without vaccines, he should also tell us what he believes a safe number of deaths associated with that would be. 


People are willfully ignoring the science and facts to score political points or, let’s be honest, to try to knock educators and unions down a peg. We will not allow this.

 

First, it is not safe. At no point since school buildings were closed last March has LA County been out of the purple tier  — the highest possible level. Purple means there is widespread COVID-19 transmission in the county. 


Second, we are getting mixed messages. In November, Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was unsafe to reopen schools and that all teachers should be vaccinated. Now, in February, infection rates are six times higher than they were in November but Newsom has changed his tune and now says schools are safe to reopen without vaccines for educators. 


Third, schools in the purple tier should not reopen. Studies show that schools are safe if community transmission is under control and mitigation measures are in place. That’s not the case in LA County. LA County is still in the purple tier.


Fourth, children have a higher rate of asymptomatic infection. In LAUSD (the only school district in the state to offer widespread COVID testing) 1 in 3 children have tested positive for COVID-19. So the claims that transmission does not occur in schools are often based on studies that share a vital flaw —incomplete contact tracing due to a lack of surveillance testing of often asymptomatic students. Saying no cases were found when systematic testing is not happening, particularly when community spread is high, is not a foundation on which to base a widespread return to in-person instruction.


We must take politics out of the pandemic. Let’s listen to scientists. Right now, several epidemiologists have been calling for a national lockdown with real financial supports to allow people to stay safe at home, because of these new COVID-19 strains, which spread easily and rapidly. 


It’s time to address some of the harmful rhetoric out there. Everyone is entitled to opinions, but we must be respectful of each other. There are some lines being crossed — whether it’s news anchors, radio hosts or frustrated parents who are spewing hate, racism and misogynistic behavior. And we have to call out the privilege. Not all parents are experiencing this crisis the same way. For too many Black and Brown families, this pandemic has meant economic disaster, the loss of their homes, and the death of loved ones. 

   

Saying the temporary trauma from Crisis Distance Learning is greater than the illness and death of family members minimizes the reality that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts poor, Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander families in Los Angeles. Because it is the working class families of LA who suffer the most, our elected county and state officials have made the decision to let this disease run rampant.

 

Although, thankfully, serious illness and death among children are rare, 78% of the children who have died in the US are children of color. I believe if this disease was disproportionately killing white children, parents and grandparents, the response to COVID-19 from our politicians would have looked very different.


Vaccines for school educators and staff, in addition to mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, and low community transmission rates, are a part of the solution to reopen schools safely — and that is the path we continue to pursue. That is the path based on science and the path that puts the health and safety of our school staff, our students, and their families before politics.