For the the first time in weeks, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Ad Hoc Public Health and Medical Experts Task Force met today to discuss the latest developments in the Covid-19 pandemic, and how it’s impacting students, teachers and parents.
The superintendent, district staff, school board members and a panel of medical experts convened virtually over Zoom. Early on in the meeting, a consensus emerged from the experts and administrators that online schooling is putting some kids at risk.
"I feel that some of these students could be in danger, that they’re much safer in our schools," said school board member Dr. Lubby Navarro.
"Those of us in pediatrics, we are extremely concerned about the welfare of children and what school can offer them, especially in elementary age kids and children with special needs, and we’re starting to hear more and more of our colleagues around the nation recommend keeping the little ones in school," said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician.
Covid-19 cases in Miami-Dade schools mirror the county at large, but the district maintains schools themselves are not spreader environments. Rather, students and staff contract the coronavirus elsewhere and bring it to school, forcing many students to quarantine If they’ve been in proximity to anyone who tests positive.
That’s where the concept of "surgical quarantining" comes in.
The idea, discussed several times in the meeting, is to find ways to limit the amount of children who must stay home for two weeks, and also to limit the days from 14 to possibly 10 or even 7, based on new CDC guidelines.
School board members asked if a student sits far away from a colleague who tested positive, does that student necessarily have to quarantine?
"There’s a balance between what’s good and right for kids, side by side with possible associated risks ‘cause children who stay home, that’s a risky proposition, kids who miss out on school, that's a risky proposition for all the reasons we’ve discussed," said superintendent Alberto Carvalho, referring to evidence of learning deficits and mental health issues with children who are forced to stay at home.
"Again, you have to consider, how much risk are you willing to take and what does it mean," said infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty. "Because it isn’t just a matter of whether the child is at risk, it’s whether that child gets contaminated and has enough virus to share with someone else in the household."
Dr. Marty said if students could be rapid-tested, she would absolutely support limiting the scope of quarantines.
Other issues discussed during the meeting included the vaccines and their likely impact. Dr. Marty cautioned that they will not be a silver bullet, that people will still need to practice social distancing and mask-wearing for the foreseeable future.
Expanding mental health services to children who have suffered during the pandemic was also discussed and is on the agenda, it seems, of every school board member who spoke up during today’s meeting.