Schools Seen as Virus `Petri Dish’ as Trump Pushes for Reopening

Children can transmit coronavirus, a Johns Hopkins public health expert will tell a House select subcommittee on the coronavirus, in a challenge to President Donald Trump‘s push to reopen schools in the fall.

“We can say with confidence that outbreaks in schools are likely,” Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will tell lawmakers Thursday. Researchers don’t yet know if children without symptoms transmit the virus as efficiently as adults, she says in testimony prepared for the hearing.

Trump, in an interview Wednesday with Fox News, said children are “virtually immune” to Covid-19. Rivers will remind lawmakers that although children are less likely to die of the disease, schools are also workplaces for teachers and staff who are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus.

“Our classrooms are a petri dish,” Angela Skillings, an Arizona second-grade teacher will tell the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing.

Many school districts this week began in-person classes for the fall semester. Others—including 12 of the country’s 15 largest districts—have rejected White House calls to reopen, opting to hold classes virtually.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Joanne Collins Brock , a second grade teacher at St. Francis School, teaches online in her empty classroom in Goshen, Kentucky.

Rivers will urge Congress to pass legislation to study how children spread the disease, which mitigation measures are most critical, and how to make remote learning more effective.

“That research would be helpful in refining our understanding of the risks of reopening school buildings for children, teachers, families, and the larger community,” she said in her prepared testimony. “The more we can learn about this virus, the better informed our decisions will be—and we can be sure that there will be many more difficult decisions, including those on schools, between now and when we find a safe and effective vaccine that is accessible to all Americans.”

Senators are discussing the details of another coronavirus relief package. A GOP plan released last week would provide $70 billion for K-12 schools but attach most of those funds to physical school reopenings.

Aid Sought for Schools

Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools in Florida, will tell lawmakers that the district’s only option when the fall semester starts in a few weeks is an eLearning model. The state of Florida surpassed 500,000 coronavirus cases this week. The highest concentration of cases has been in Broward and Miami-Dade County, Runcie testifies.

“We simply will not risk exposing our students and staff until the coronavirus is under control,” he will say.

Absent a national plan in to assist schools at the outset of the pandemic, districts have been forced to fend for themselves to purchase personal protective equipment, his written testimony says.

Runcie wants lawmakers to pass another $200 billion in aid for K-12 schools to cover shortfalls in state and local revenue, assist with remote learning, and pay for cleaning and sanitation, in addition to other costs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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