The well-being of our children should always come first. Schools can, and should, provide for in person learning for the upcoming term. The importance of re-opening schools cannot be overstated. Rural counties across Maryland will continue to disproportionately bear the negative impacts of school systems opting for online-only learning, since adequate technical equipment and broadband coverage is lacking for many children. Their families, many left with little choice but to take extended leaves or even quit jobs, will also suffer. Nowhere is this more dangerous than in single parent households, where mothers or fathers may already be struggling to provide for their children. Keeping schools closed will only create more challenges for these families.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) brief titled The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools This Fall states that “extended school closure is harmful to children [and] can lead to severe learning loss…” Given our current understanding of this virus and how it spread, it is clear that the benefits of reopening schools far outweigh the risks and is the prudent choice for students, their families, and our communities.
All available data and evidence indicate that it is highly unlikely that children, especially primary school age, routinely or efficiently transmit the virus to their peers or adults. In fact, data from the CDC indicates that children are at a much higher risk of serious illness from contracting seasonal flu. In contrast, there are known and serious risks of children suffering physically and emotionally when they are confined indoors and not allowed to attend school – such as higher levels of depression and abuse, which, in extreme cases, can lead to suicide. In fact, based on available science, the American Academy of Pediatrics has officially called for the re-opening of in person instruction for our children. I share their opinion and believe we can and should move to resume in person classes. Without in person learning, we know that children are psychologically at risk and will fall behind scholastically.
School personnel can be protected through social distancing, wearing masks, and hand cleaning hygiene. Likewise, so can high risk adults living with those children attending school. In rare cases, distance learning can be achieved as an option.
Science will lead us out of this global pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 fueled fear in our communities and led to mass shutdowns and significant changes in our daily lives. Now, months later, our understanding of the virus – how it infects, who is most vulnerable, and how to effectively reduce transmission — is much better understood. To re-open, local school systems will have to effectively execute a coordinated plan that has never been undertaken before – but I believe they can, and should, rise to the occasion. In Congress, I remain committed to adequately evaluating and supporting appropriate measures to assist our schools in safely re-opening across Maryland this fall. Our children deserve no less.
Congressman Andy Harris, M.D., is a practicing physician and former professor and chief of obstetric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He serves in the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland’s First District.