School during COVID

We are writing to express our view that, given current local COVID-19 case numbers, Ithaca City Schools can and should reopen for in-person instruction, alongside a remote learning option, as currently scheduled for October 5th. As community healthcare professionals, and in many cases parents of school-aged children, we recognize that there are risks associated with school reopening. We believe strongly, however, that these risks are currently low and so outweighed by the enormous benefits that in-person school provides for many children.

In addition to academic instruction, schools offer a nurturing space for children who would otherwise be unsupervised while their caregivers work; guaranteed meals for kids who might not have enough to eat; and essential services for those with disabilities, developmental delays, and mental health struggles. K-12 school buildings also provide a space where kids of varying backgrounds can interact with and learn from one another. While some children thrive with remote learning, many others, especially younger kids and kids with disabilities, risk falling behind if not physically present in the classroom, leading to negative long term educational and developmental consequences for them and our community as a whole.

To ensure that our community’s children retain valuable access to the classroom, we argue that three essential requirements must be met. Each of these will need an ongoing community-wide effort.

First, all of us must continue to take necessary measures, including maintaining high rates of mask wearing and social distancing, so that our local COVID-19 case numbers remain low. Schools simply cannot safely open when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the community. The good news is that we in Tompkins County, even with the recent influx of college students, still maintain low rates of infection. For the month of August, there was just a little over one new positive case per day. While new cases have increased over the past few days, this was expected given mandatory testing of all arriving students and staff at Cornell. This bump in cases reinforces our strong belief that our county’s low positive numbers depend on all of us—including all the students at Cornell and Ithaca College who have chosen to spend the academic year here. We all have to work together to keep up the good work and keep these infection rates low!

Second, in the context of low case numbers in the community, schools must be prepared to minimize the risk of in-building COVID-19 spread. In addition to protecting children, in-school personnel, including teachers, need to be assured that they are not taking on unacceptable risk for themselves, their families, or their students. We believe that the ICSD re-opening plan meets this demand. It includes appropriate symptom screening and home isolation, multiple social distancing measures, face covering requirements, cohorting, as well as daily disinfection procedures to keep the virus at bay. Additionally, we as healthcare providers will do our part to address the continued concerns of educators and add our voice to efforts to keep their workplace as safe as possible.

Finally, good information must flow and be communicated effectively between medical professionals, public health officials, the school district, our media, and the community. Cornell’s Covid dashboard is a good example of this for the community. We must be prepared to use data, including both local and in-school case numbers, to quickly make appropriate changes, including short and long-term school closures if needed, to protect the health of students, school personnel, and their families.

This is an uncertain time and we are proud to be part of a community that has stepped up to meet the challenge of protecting one another from illness. We especially wish to voice our appreciation for local educators, administrators, and other school personnel, who, whether in-person or from a distance, are working hard to guarantee our children’s access to high-quality education despite challenging circumstances. We as a community must do all we can to allow them to do what they do best in the least restrictive way possible. As a community working together, we can do this.

Signed,

Oyinade Akinyede, MD

Lisa Baclawski, MD

Tim Bael, MD

Jessica Barfield Doto, APN, NP-C

Elizabeth Bordoni, FNP

Thomas Brown, PA-C

Susan Carlisle, RPA-C

Jessica Casey, DO

Reilly Coch, MD

Jessica Conner, PsyD

John Cooke, MD

Cynthia Davis, FNP

Lori Davis, DNP, FNP-C, ACNP-C

Audrey DeSilva, MD, FAAP

Debra Dibartolo, FNP-C, CARN-AP, SANE-A, SANE-A

Melissa Dundhale, MD

Kyla Edelman, PA

Caroline Furman, FNP

Andrew Getzin, MD

Rex Gido, DO

Bagum K Gulshad, NP

Tim?Harris, MD

Caitlin Johnson, PNP

Karen Kim, MD

Brian Kramer DO, FAAP

Karen LaFace, MD

Kathy Lacson, NP

Erin Lovejoy, RPA-C

Avery Marzulla, PA-C

Josephine McAllister, MD

Christian McKeithen, RPA-C

David Mizro, PA-C

Kathleen Murphy, PA-C

Peggy Pease, CPNP

Nina Pegram, PNP

Mariah Peiretti, MD

Donna Pierre, MD?

Bryan Powell, PA-C

Sarah Robinson, RPA-C

Kathy Rudert, FNP

Kathryn Rooth, DO

Peter Schwartz, MD

Kelly Seaman, FNP

Amit Shrivastava, MD

Walter Silbert, MD

Kathryn Simms, MD

Jeffrey Snedeker, MD

Elizabeth Stein, MD

Shawnti Storm, FNP

Rose Streets, PA-C

Marsha Sundman, RPA-C

Sandra Thananart, MD

Lindsay Tamborelle, MD

Andrea Torrado, MD

Marguerite Uphoff, MD

Mark Wernham, PA-C

David Wirtz, MD

Serena Yoon, MD

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