Forum highlights science-based approach to reopening school campuses

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SAN DIEGO – It’s a question many are asking: What’s the safest way to reopen schools in a COVID-19 world?

That was the topic of discussion Thursday in a science-based forum hosted by a group of parents and educators connected to the San Diego Unified School District. The district was under its Phase 1 reopening plan, which allows only students with the greatest needs appointment-based in-person sessions.

The forum comes as San Diego County recently dropped down into the state’s most restrictive purple reopening tier amid a surge in virus cases that has upended many aspects of daily life since March.

Several medical professionals were featured, including those working in infectious disease, to discuss facts about the pandemic and schools.

Dr. Howard Taras, a pediatrician specializing in school health, emphasized the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

“How do we get out of it? A lot of it is masks, masks, masks,” Taras said. “And that would be the first three answers. The other ones, of course, are all the other things we talk about in schools and elsewhere which are distancing and holding far fewer large events.”

Dr. Chip Schooley, an infectious disease physician, recommended using high-efficiency filters for proper ventilation in indoor areas.

Dr. Fred Wu of Scripps Mercy stressed the importance of surveillance testing.

“If we test and we find out community spread is getting into the school than we can isolate and get them out of that environment,” Wu said.

But parents continue to offer differing opinions about reopening plans. Gina Smith, a parent who is one of the lead organizers of Reopen SDUSD, called it a “moral imperative” that the district reopen schools “yesterday.”

“It really is safer for them to be in school,” Smith said.

Another parent, Dawniel Stewart, who helped organize the forum, argued that the real concern is that the next person to contract the virus “could potentially lose their life.”

“For us to not consider everyone at-large when we’re looking at how we are approaching returning to learn would be a mistake,” Stewart said.

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