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Parents and educators have questions for Dr Fauci and Governor Raimondo

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Rhode Island is recommending distancing of 3-6 feet where possible. In a full return, classrooms will not be able to adequately distance students. How important is physical distancing between people in a confined space? Are classrooms safe in rooms where only minimal social distancing is possible?


Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is holding a livestream conference with Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Thursday, August 13, at 3pm on Facebook to discuss the reopening of Rhode Island schools. The governor has invited Rhode Islanders to send in their questions for Dr. Fauci.

As Rhode Island Parents-Educators for Safe Schools, a group that is made up of parents, school employees, and community stakeholders was compiling the questions their members had all sent to the governor for Dr Fauci, it became clear that many had previously sent the governor questions about school reopening, and had received no response. This oped will get our questions and concerns out in the public.

The questions are below and roughly organized by category.

The Questions:

  • Can you, Dr. Fauci, look at the math formula the State of Rhode Island is using to determine percent positive rates vs the formula being used in other states? Please give us your input on how we, as a state, should interpret that.
  • Please speak to the reality of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread. We see the NBA, the White House and other organizations requiring testing before entering. Yet, with schools, students and teachers will be suddenly exposed to at least 30 people they have not been around, and there is no testing required.
  • It will be difficult to keep children masked. Teachers will not have medical-grade PPE. Pediatricians are currently not allowing families to wait in waiting rooms, to prevent the spread of infection. Administrators and government officials are still conducting Zoom meetings for safety. Other countries have waited for 0 cases for 14 days to open schools. Since asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread is known to occur, how is it medically ethical to thrust children and teachers back into classrooms without proper (medical grade) PPE and the ability to socially distance at least the required 6 feet?
  • When considering a return to school, what per capita rate of cases do you feel is the bare minimum safest?
  • I have been increasingly concerned about the issue of ventilation in school buildings; I haven’t seen enough emphasis placed on the importance of proper ventilation, relating to the spread of Covid-19 in the reopening schools plan. The CDC says that bringing in outdoor air is essential to ensuring good ventilation. Our classrooms and offices in many of our school buildings do not have windows that open, and some don’t have windows at all. There is also the issue of air conditioning. I have seen some recent articles suggesting that air conditioning may be contributing to the spread of COVID-19. Can you please tell us if it is safe to work in classrooms with 30 people that do not have access to fresh air for an entire school day? And is it safe to be working in spaces that use air conditioning? What do we need to have in place in regard to proper ventilation to lessen the transmission of this virus?
  • Given that we’ve been told that being in close contact for more than 15 minutes significantly increases the risk of infection, can you speak to what extended exposure over several hours might mean?
  • Rhode Island is recommending distancing of 3-6 feet where possible. In a full return, classrooms will not be able to adequately distance students. How important is physical distancing between people in a confined space? Are classrooms safe in rooms where only minimal social distancing is possible?
  • When considering a return to school, what per capita rate of cases do you feel is the bare minimum safest?
  • With other states that are reopening schools already seeing outbreaks, what do we need to do differently to ensure that the same thing won’t happen in our state?
  • Since there are no shared materials, how do you feel about passing out paper assignments? Since air quality and ventilation are contributing factors to the virus, do you recommend we use fans in classrooms?”
  • Once a vaccine is available, it is looking like it will need to be received twice, one month apart from each other, before enough antibodies are built up to provide immunity. And, unless enough of a percentage of the population gets vaccinated, there will not be enough community immunity to mitigate the spread sufficiently. Additionally, there is concern that there won’t be enough vaccine available to inoculate everybody at once; it’ll likely need to be administered in a phased manner. How are they deciding who gets the vaccine first, how much of the population realistically needs to be vaccinated in order for the risk of spread to be adequately mitigated, and how long do you anticipate it will take to vaccinate everybody?
  • More and more studies are coming out every day showing how children, once previously believed not to be vectors of the virus, are indeed spreading it. Though screening protocols will be in place, we all know that they are not perfect; not every person is symptomatic, not everybody has a fever, etc. A lot of parents are concerned with the fact that children, especially young children, will not keep their masks on consistently, nor will schools have the ability to continuously keep children properly distanced. Then you have situations like lunch, where the masks need to be off in order to consume food. A group of children sitting in a cafeteria with the opportunity to talk to each other without masks on feels like a realistic scenario in which the virus can spread. What type of reassurance do you have to offer parents with these concerns?
  • How are states determining the safety threshold? Would it be reasonable to look at the safety thresholds of the various European countries that we have been reminded have successfully opened buildings and follow suit? Specifically, is a threshold of 100/100,000 cases per 7 day span reasonable?
  • Would you consider running school buses with (potentially) two kids per seat (creating close contacts) then going into different grade levels and classrooms a safe protocol? Our current “playbook” plans to only quarantine students who have a “probable case” and not their close contacts. What, if anything, would you change or suggest? 
  • What do we know about the long lasting health impacts of MERS-CoV or a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in children, even when asymptomatic? 
  • What, if any, health impacts can we predict in a person who contracts both the flu and COVID-19? And what kind of impacts will flu season and COVID-19 have on hospital capacities?
  • What kind of mental health advantages will we see in children who are attending in person learning void of socializing, hands on activities, peer work and “specials” like P.E., art and music? What are the advantages to our students’ mental health for in person learning that is happening almost exclusively on a computer screen?
  • Since the start of the pandemic, the CDC and WHO have been advocating that people socially distance six feet apart from one another. Can you please explain why schools have a three foot minimum requirement other than the fact that more than this would cost districts money? Is this a safe and why or why not?”
  • There are new studies coming out stating that the virus can travel much more than six feet.  Due to space constraints, schools are having to use a three foot social distance. Can you please elaborate on the increased risk of social distancing at three feet vs six feet?
  • What is your view on Covid vs flu vs cold/allergy symptoms? Because the list of symptoms overlaps, do you recommend that a child be kept out of school with ANY of these symptoms (ex: a runny nose)? And if yes, how it that going to logistically work? Will we overwhelm the pediatricians offices by requiring a doctors note for every day your child has a runny nose? For me, that’s almost every day of the school year with my little ones!
  • What extra safety precautions/equipment should be provided to teachers and staff who work with populations that require physical interventions and restraints? Even with social distancing and face masks, is it safe for students to be confined all day in classrooms (or staff in offices) that have no windows?
  • How is it safe for support professionals who work at two or three different buildings? They are definitely not in a stable group.
  • Is it safe for staff, especially those aged 50 years or more, to be alone around a group of 20-30 five-year old children all day who will not be able to keep masks on, keep social distance (impossible with the room size) and have to eat in the room with masks off? These adults will be exposed daily to the children and whoever the children come in contact to at home and in the community. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to mandate much smaller stable groups of 15 total people? How bad do the numbers need to be before this happens?
  • I am particularly concerned about returning to school in person because both my husband and I are teachers over 50 years of age. We also have two sons that will be returning to school. Our exposure will come from three different school districts, four different schools with a K-12 range. Are families like mine at greater risk and what additional measures should we take beyond the basic 5 that you normally outline to reduce our risk?
  • Are fans recommended to use in the classroom or are they not to be used because it can spread the air droplets throughout the room? Can you please clarify on what “proper ventilation” means?
  • Can you please explain the foreseeable risks of a classroom of 30 at three feet apart eating and drinking at lunch?
  • I’d like to know if there will, or should be, a limit to how many students a teacher/specialist should be exposed to per day, given that many go from room to room delivering services and will be exposed to roughly 120 people in classes per day, unlike classroom teachers (who I realize have many similar concerns). Perhaps accommodations should be made for those of us who need to deliver our services but have not had this addressed as of yet. Our services are part of the special ed IEPs.
  • Should teachers wear face shields/goggles in addition to masks?
  • In our Covid response playbook it states that when there is a positive case in school a close contact person who tested positive in the last 90 days does not have to quarantine. My question is: Why wouldn’t this person need to quarantine and is there proof that if you have had COVID-19 are immune to it?

Questions and concerns we sent to the governor to which she has not replied:

  • Can you explain how Rhode Island arrived at the safeguard of 100 cases per 100,000 people when public health experts, like Dr Phillips, Chief of Disaster Medicine at GWUH have recommended a much lower threshold of 75 cases per 100,000 people for the last seven straight days and states like Oregon have opted for a safeguard 10x higher than ours at 10 cases per 100,000 people after looking at data from European countries that had opened schools. How did we come up with 100?
  • Cranston, as well as many AFT districts, submitted a hybrid plan for a full return to allow for a minimum of three feet of distancing between students. Why was this rejected for students K-12? If we cannot employ the same social distancing requirements as the rest of the state, how are we keeping our students and staff safe? Please take into account the lack of stable grouping in high school and the fact that staff move between many groups.
  • Will schools take the same measures to ensure students and school staff have a negative result before returning that businesses and the state take?
  • What is the plan to ensure continuity of learning for those who have to quarantine (whether because they’re a probable case or a close contact)? Why hasn’t there been more attention in the draft plans to what these foreseeable absences and disruptions will mean in terms of quality of education, individually and collectively?
  • Many districts, including Cranston and Providence, have a great disparity between zip codes affected by COVID-19. When determining whether school is safe, how can we ensure all students and staff are safe? How can we make sure students and staff in our lowest income and most racially diverse communities are safe if we are using total municipal data to determine safety? Would it be safer to look at the hardest hit zip codes and make district plans accordingly?
  • What plans/programs are in place (for schools and families) for the emergency transition from in person learning to distance learning, particularly when it is by district with little to no advance warning? What plans are in place to ensure a high quality education for students across districts regardless of in person learning or distance learning taking place?  Will every school building have a full time nurse?  How can we ensure students will not gather in large groups (with or without masks) before and after school (ex: bus stops, as school doors open before and after school, walking to/from school, etc.)?
  • What measures is the state taking to ensure equitable access to a safe school reopening? For instance, how is the state supporting Central Falls when they still don’t have a budget for the next school year, laid off all of their district’s nurses and last year had between 30-40 students in some classrooms?
  • Please explain the difference between the “virtual academy” and distance learning to families and teachers. Who is teaching the virtual academy? Who is being paid to run the virtual academy? How much is going to cost tax payers and where is the money coming from to run it?
  • RI has a 15 person maximum gathering restriction until the end of August. How can you justify that the next week, it is safe for up to 30 people in a room with less than six ft available to distance? How can you justify exposing educators to up to 100+ students and adults daily?”
  • What measures will the state take to support our families in hot spot districts? These hot spots correlate directly to low income communities who will be disproportionately financially impacted when their students are not able to return to school buildings. Will you extend eviction and utility moratoriums? Address unemployment / underemployment benefits? How will we protect our families financially in these communities?”
  • I’m curious about public charters who have students from all over the state including the “high” number cities. Also, how are students with IEPs/504s going to be accommodated with movement breaks, cool down areas, sensory stations etc…?
  • I would like clarification on how long a student/teacher will be required to stay home after presenting symptoms. The “playbook” states they will need a negative test to return if they have certain symptoms/combination of symptoms but I received a negative test result last week but was still told to quarantine for 10 days since symptoms started since tests are not 100% accurate. Will this be the rules in schools or do they just need to present a negative test?
  • I am confused by the way the state is recording data of positivity rate of the virus in our state. When I go onto Johns Hopkins and see the percent of positivity rate for Rhode Island, it is showing a higher percent rate than on our Rhode Island Dept of Health page. Why is Rhode Island calculating on new positive daily cases, you should be reporting positive daily cases as the CDC is on their website. When you do this it changes your percent of positive cases and they are much higher than what you report for Rhode Island. I think that a positive is a positive case; it shouldn’t matter if it’s brand new or a case that’s a day old. Are you reporting it that way so the percent is smaller so that you have a better chance of getting kids into school? Because if that is the case it is just wrong.
  • I am genuinely confused by all of this could you please explain and elaborate?
  • If you would like teachers to be “like nurses and doctors” and return to the front lines, will the Rhode Island government ensure enough PPE and access to weekly testing for teachers? Also, when/if teachers get ill, is Rhode Island going to cover loss of time/wages by supplementing pay?
  • Rhode Island already had a shortage of highly qualified teachers. How will the state of our public education be affected if teachers opt to walk away from education rather than risk the health of themselves and their families? How will public education and funding be impacted if families opt to unenroll and homeschool next year? Can you assure families that every school in Rhode Island will be staffed with a full time nurse before students are asked to return to the building next year?
  • Have schools been renovated to allow the adequate ventilation that is required? If not, will this be done before the school reopening August 31st? How are kids maintaining “stable pods” when the are being bussed in from all over and no-one has control over their level of exposure outside of school hours? The bus stop screening questions are inadequate to determine whether children are contagious, as they may be asymptomatic. If children who fail the bus screening are put on those buses anyway, they are putting everyone on the bus in danger. Will parents be notified that their kid was put at risk when this happens?

Questions and Concerns generated through group discussion. These have not yet been asked formally, but would like to have answered by the Governor, Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), and/or the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH).

  • How often will school districts have to switch between plans if we are looking at 100 cases per 100,000? If it above 100 one week and they down to partial and the next week it is 98 do they go back to full in person right away? And what about the week after that?
  • Is the governor taking into consideration that some teachers are being told to wear masks with mandatory locked doors and no air conditioning or ventilation?
  • We are not able to force students to wear masks, putting all of us at risk. So should we really be opening schools, putting students and adult staff at risk?
  • How does contact tracing work for an art teacher that sees 600+ students?
  • Having students stay in a room 6-7 hours a day with no interaction with others besides those in the classroom is not good for their social-emotional and mental health. (This applies to special needs classrooms, as well as in reopening plans where the plan has the students stay in one class and the teachers move from room to room.)
  • Are schools serving multiple districts throughout the state and having students from multiple districts interact with each other throughout the school day and then return to their hometowns (and to homes with siblings attending in district schools) each day more at risk?
  • How can you, the Governor, expect all students to wear masks, especially when there’s NO ventilation in the school buildings?
  • How is eating lunch in the classroom safe? Nurses at Miriam Hospital contracted COVID in their break room.
  • I am a specialist and see over 300 kids a week. I am wondering how specialists will be able to stay safe especially those with more than one school.
  • I would like specific plans for active shooter and fire drills.
  • Central Falls numbers are the worst in the state, almost double the limited 100 per 100,000. We are currently on track for the partial in person plan (as opposed to limited or full in person or full distance learning). At what number would we be at limited or full distance learning? It seems insane to me that Providence has 103 and we have 187 but we would have the same plan. Is there a limit for each plan? What would be your limit to switch to full distance learning?
  • If the allocated budget for Central Falls does not provide the equitable safety measures of more “affluent” communities, if the state is requiring opening, should it be the state’s responsibility to ensure that the proper safety measures are in place regardless of what the school district can afford?
  • Why can schools mandate a dress code for girls but not mandate mask wearing? 
  • If a child is “sick” do you quarantine the whole class? Their families? For how long? Does everyone needed to be tested? Why are some towns allowed to have partial in person plans that keep elementary students at full time?
  • What about the mental health impact for children if they expose/infect a family member because they are in school? We have been told to teach our children the severity of this virus. If an elementary age student has to quarantine due to an outbreak in their classroom, what is the potential for them being fearful of returning to school again? What about the mental health of staff? What should be in place in schools to address the mental health needs of adults that work in buildings?
  • Stable groups at the upper grades are only stable for students, not for teachers. We will still be rotated around and exposed to every student because “it is important for them to see us in person.” Would it not be better to have one teacher with each group of students, helping, bonding with, and being an educational advocate for that stable group? This way the students’ SEL needs are met and the teachers are actually protected. Also, is it true that the CARES money that was going to pay for PPE and sanitization equipment for schools will now go to pay for the continued unemployment bump which was signed into order by Trump?

Transportation

  • Transportation needs to be on the top of the list as well. That’s where the spread will begin. Kids in a mini bus especially will be in tight quarters. No matter how much we try, there will not be enough distance in that little petri dish.
  • My school building is very old and has no ventilation system. We are not permitted to use fans (correct?), but what about air conditioning? What about when the windows have to be closed in the winter? How much does this increase the chance of infection?
  • I would like Dr. Fauci to be aware of the actual poor conditions of our buildings and ventilation before answering whether or not all of these other factors are safe. Everything has been “assuming proper ventilation”, and Rhode Island doesn’t have such.
  • Our school nurse is already very busy before Covid. How are students that need to see the nurse daily for medication etc. going to be kept safe when being in the same nurse’s office as children that may have Covid, on a regular basis? Nurses offices are typically tiny, masks have to be removed to take meds, the same nurse is caring for all students. (All of this even when students who are seen by the nurse are then separated from other children after being observed.) And now the same school nurses are also expected to act as the representative to work with RIDOH. This is not realistic or safe for the nurse or students. I’ve also noticed that some reopening plans don’t commit to a spacing.
  • I want to know how the governor expects to keep us safe on a bus, especially special needs. We need to physically help them on and off the bus, buckle them and keep them safe throughout the whole ride to school. There is no way they will keep a mask on. How can you ask us to risk our health taking a gamble that we won’t get sick or worse? Almost every driver I know, and myself, are immune compromised. I would like to invite you, Governor, on my bus the first day of school to sit with a child that is constantly trying to unbuckle. I could go on but I think you can understand. there will be no social distancing at all.
  • They are advising to keep the windows on the bus open. When driving on a bus with the windows open, the air whips like crazy all around the bus. Wouldn’t this increase the spread of the droplets/virus? Fans are not allowed to blow into a classroom for the same reason. This doesn’t make sense. It’s okay on the bus but not allowed in the classroom? We all already know how quickly illnesses spread to everyone on the bus, what’s the best plan for keeping it from happening with Covid?
  • The windows only go down three inches on some buses, six inches on others.
  • Why is it that the governor is not thinking of us school bus drivers, or aides being confined in such a small transportation? Does she think that the special needs kids won’t take their masks off and throw them? We cannot force them to keep them on, we have to physically put most of them in their car seats on a special needs bus. There is absolutely no social distance when working on a special needs bus. These children will rip our masks off. Why can’t the Governor keep us all safe before its to late and keep schools closed until 2021?
  • It is not possible to ensure a three foot distance on special needs buses, or in special needs classrooms for that matter.
  • I work in the southern part of the state. There is a major issue with transportation for our families. They need to make testing available in all areas of the state not just at the convention center or it will not be accessed.
  • The problem is there is not enough information to base this decision on. Also things proven to prevent transmission of other viruses are not possible for schools to do, like proper ventilation and air filtration. Social distancing and masks don’t work in a stagnant environment. All the cleaning in the world is not going to prevent the virus from transmitting through the air.

General comments, concerns, and questions

  • Who will be taking responsibility if there are hospitalizations or deaths due to reopening schools and community spread as a result? Will the governor be attending funerals of students and their extended families, educators, school bus drivers and monitors, cafeteria workers, custodial staff, office staff, and community members, that die due to her opening of schools initiative? Will she take responsibility?
  • I just can’t understand how they can justify the degree of secondary exposure that will happen to the families and anyone else kids need to interact with outside of school (after school programs, sports, etc).
  • Will the governor send her own children back for in person schooling?
  • What does “stable group” actually mean? It seems to be interpreted to fit an “agenda” so I am looking for the medical definition of stable group.
  • I read that the Governor said that we, as parents, needed to use common sense. For example, if we know our kids have allergies and they are like this every day, send them to school. Yet, the schools would be expected to send them home if they were exhibiting those symptoms. I’m a nurse, and I can tell you that I can’t always tell the difference between allergies and the very beginning of a cold/flu. When my kids’ allergies are bad, they have low-grade fevers. When my kids have a cold, their nasal secretions are sometimes clear. This whole scenario is crazy. Nobody’s going to be able to say for sure that any one symptom is or is not Covid.
  • I can’t even go inside my veterinarian’s office with my cat. Either this thing is totally over exaggerated by the politicians or they are using our kids as an experiment. Or even worse, they just don’t care. And I work directly with Doctors who work with Covid patients and they all have said our kids will be fine and that they need to go back to school. Who can we believe? Who can we trust? Regardless, our kids and every single school worker will be stressed and confused about what to do. I have gone back and forth a million times as to whether to put my daughter in 1st grade or teach her myself. This decision is utterly exhausting as I flip flop everyday.

On Friday, August 14, 2020 from 3-5pm, parents and teachers from the group Rhode Island Parents / Educators for Safe Schools and Safe Return to School RI will be delivering a petition and rallying at the State House in an effort to convince state leadership to act in the best interest of students, school staff and their encompassing communities by mandating a return to distance learning until more stringent standards of safety in schools are met and funded.

Rhode Island Parents-Educators for Safe Schools is a group of concerned parents, school employees and community stakeholders who are uncomfortable with the state’s push to reopen schools on August 31. "We worry that it is not possible to safely open schools during a pandemic, and we doubt that our poorest districts will have the resources to implement equitable safeguards when and if they’re forced to return."