Reopen Davidson and Shelby Schools - SAFELY

To Governor Bill Lee and Members of the TN General Assembly :

We should reopen schools to in-person learning when it is safe, and we should have standard metrics to move in-person education to the virtual setting.  We need to rapidly vaccinate our educators.  The CDC has revised its risk levels to help guide communities.  Health experts have regularly said that factors like the prevalence of COVID-19 spread in the community, and the availability of appropriate virus mitigation measures (such as universal masking requirements, adequate ventilation and appropriate distancing) should determine whether it is safe to reopen schools.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that schools collaborate with state and local public health officials to prioritize access of teachers and staff to the COVID-19 vaccine.  Additionally, this group advocates for universal masking in schools. 

The CDC has recognized the social, emotional, and academic toll which remote learning has taken on children, particularly in already vulnerable, low-income communities. The report also states “all recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance, increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic individuals.”

Bottom line: if we want schools to do their part, then the county and the state must first do theirs to ensure safe conditions for children, teachers, and their families.  The reality is that layered mitigation strategies are successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

This is supported by a January 10th White House COVID Task Force Memo, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, thousands of Tennessee health experts, and Harvard Global Health Institute's School Reopening Guidance.

According to the Harvard Global Health Institutes School Reopening Guidance, trust and infection control are key issues which must be addressed to safely reopen schools.  The most important elements of infection control that matter are:

  • Universal masking (including while speaking)
  • Hand and bathroom hygiene
  • Achieving 4-6 air changes per hour of ‘clean air’ through any combination of ventilation and filtration (or outdoor classrooms)
  • At least 3 ft., and ideally 6 ft,  social distancing for young learners for all levels of community spread
  • 3 ft. social distancing for high schools when levels of community spread are less than 100/100,000 daily new cases
  • Robust quarantining policies and contact tracing practices
  • Where feasible, surveillance/screening testing.

The guidance further states, “schools face a greater challenge for safe reopenings where communities will not support mask-wearing in schools."

The report also recognizes that both testing and vaccination strategies will be needed for most of 2021, and that, after health care and essential workers, those who work in schools should be among the next categories to receive vaccination. 

Further, the increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking.  This variant has already been detected in Tennessee and is predicted to be a predominant strain by March.

As physicians, teachers, and parents in Davidson and Shelby Counties, we implore Governor Bill Lee and members of the TN General Assembly  to respect the reopening plans of MNPS Director Dr. Adrienne Battle and SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray, based on the guidance of health experts and the progress of vaccinating teachers and families, rather than the arbitrary timeline requested by Governor Bill Lee.

Your name