Last week, schools across Georgia reopened leaving parents with an unconscionable paradox – abandoning work to care for school-aged children or returning to work and exposing their children to the potential harm and unprecedented risk found in schools that fail to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines.
In one Georgia county, schools were forced to close as quickly as they opened because of a rapid outbreak of the disease. In others, teachers are opting out of the profession, deciding that early retirement is preferable to the risk of exposure.
COVID-19 has impacted the way that Georgians live and has directly affected my family. My wife Carol is a pediatrician.
Every day, Carol’s office receives calls for coronavirus tests on children. The parents call not only for school-aged children but also for toddlers and preschoolers who have been exposed to older siblings with symptoms or at childcare centers.
To minimize the risk to other patients, Carol dons PPE and conducts the testing in the parking lot beside her office. She lovingly encourages the children who, at their parent’s directions, bravely and dutifully attempt to wear masks and use hand sanitizer to protect themselves and others from exposure.
Unfortunately, because of conflicting, incorrect, and confusing information from the media and some elected officials, many have been led to believe that children are immune from infection. A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital revealed a 40 percent increase in child coronavirus cases in states and cities studied during the last two weeks in July.
Just last week, we learned of the death of a seven-year-old boy from Savannah; he had no preexisting conditions and drowned after a COVID-19 induced fever caused a seizure while he was bathing. Without question, we must do everything possible to protect our children, their teachers, and the providers who are entrusted with their care.
It is time that we stand with our children and teachers during this global pandemic, recognizing its tremendous danger and uncertainty.
Georgia’s governor continues to ignore scientific data, recklessly and needlessly exposing our children to significant threats. He called for the sporadic resumption of in-person instruction without the input of scientists, healthcare professionals, parents, and, most importantly, educators.
During a press conference with Surgeon General Jerome Adams, he rejected the possibility of mandating masks in schools. At every turn, the decisions made by this administration undermine Georgia’s principles, history of achievement, and values and moral standards.
Georgia’s public schools lack sufficient personnel, medical staff, and training to monitor potential exposure risk or to conduct contact tracing. Moreover, our schools are not structurally or procedurally equipped to implement social distancing and lack sufficient staffing and funding to effectively implement necessary alterations.
Photographs taken as students returned to class around the state reveal few masks, no social distancing, and no apparent guidance to do so.
During extensive military and public service, I have learned that there is no “one size fits all” solution for complex problems. In this case, we must be proactive, flexible, innovative, and improvise when necessary. Georgia’s children are constitutionally entitled to an education and it is imperative to their success, but schools must reopen safely.
I urge Georgia’s elected leaders to repurpose facilities – outdoor facilities, arenas, auditoriums, gymnasiums, and other accommodations – so that students can adhere to social distancing guidelines in traditional academic settings.
Additionally, parents must demand a rapid increase in the number of school nurses and health care professionals to ensure that every school in Georgia has the necessary personnel and resources to monitor students for COVID-19 symptoms, conduct testing, and immediately isolate students suspected of infection.
Finally, masks should be readily available and mandatory for every student. Our children are watching and our elected officials should lead by example. To do any less is unacceptable.
Ed Tarver is a candidate in the United States Senate Special Election in Georgia. Tarver was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia and a Georgia state senator from 2005 to 2009.