President Biden said that reopening a majority of U.S. schools will be a priority for the first 100 days in office. One of the biggest questions of the COVID-19 pandemic has been whether or not schools can open safely and, if so, how? Dr. Jonathan Spero has wrestled with these questions and more not only as a pandemic preparedness expert but also as the founder and CEO of InHouse Physicians — a company delivering COVID-19 testing to K-12 schools in New York City.
Spero joined Yahoo Finance to discuss what goes into making sure schools can safely reopen and why schools might be the safest place for many teachers.
“First, we gotta get the community positivity rates down. You can’t open schools. If you have high positivity rates and in different regions, it’s just, it’s a non-starter. But once you get those down … in urban areas and rural areas, then we can start thinking about reopening schools,” he said.
“Some of the things are just the basics of blocking and tackling. You have to have social distancing, mask-wearing temperature checks, maybe even a daily health survey, improvement, and the ventilation systems. Those are all just the basics, the foundational things that you need to do.”
Dr. Spero tells Yahoo Finance that he believes testing is not being administered in 99% of schools. He holds the New York Department of Education as an example of a proactive school district.
“And what we’ve seen with New York City schools is that when you, when you perform testing, you’re doing surveillance testing and have a surveillance program that’s testing students and faculty regularly that you can reduce transmission rates and reduce the chance of having outbreaks.”
Spero says that NYC schools started with testing each school once a month — however, they were not testing all students. When NYC’s positivity rate went above 3% in November, in-person school classes were shut down. Spero said that forced the City and teachers’ unions to come up with a more aggressive testing policy. While all students are still not tested, Spero says that testing is conducted in all NYC DOE schools about once a week.
Because of the amount of testing going on in NYC, Spero says that the classroom is actually the safest place for teachers.
“With New York City schools, I would say that if you’re a teacher, it is probably a lot safer to be at school than it is to be walking the streets of NYC because the positivity rate [in school] is less than 0.1%. When you’re looking at a city that maybe at 3%, that’s quite a good risk profile to have if you’re going to be going to school as a teacher,” he added.
When it comes to vaccinations for students and teachers, Spero tells Yahoo Finance that an alternative must be for those who do not wish to be vaccinated.
“You really can’t mandate it unless you offer another option. So, with the American Disabilities Act and that sort of thing, you have to have an alternative for employers. You have to do that for schools. You’ve got to have a virtual option. So it may come to it that you may not be able to go to work or school at certain districts or certain employers unless you’ve been vaccinated and you have to work, and then you’ll have to go to school or work remotely.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.