'No other viable option': Bay Area health officers demand return to in-person learning

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Ten Bay Area and Northern California health officers gathered for this first time since March 2020 Thursday, without face masks or physical distancing, urging schools to reopen fully for in-person learning in the fall.

"The lack of in-person learning has disrupted education, weakened the social supports provided by school communities, negatively impacted mental health and prevented participation in the rituals and shared milestones that tie our communities together," said Susan Phillip, San Francisco's health officer.

Phillip and her fellow officers asked school administrators to start planning now for a full return to the classroom at every grade level.

"The cost to our kids by keeping them out of school and remote learning is immense and far outweighs any benefit," said San Mateo County health officer Scott Morrow. "There is no other viable option."

The health officers from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties (plus the city of Berkeley, which has its own health department) cited students' mental health as a top concern. Morrow said data shows an increase in anxiety, depression and suicidal thinking in children and teenagers.

ALSO: Full time, in-person school starts August 16 for all students in San Francisco

Students who rely on meals provided at school have also had a harder time accessing that resource throughout the pandemic.

On top of that, classroom transmission is very rare, health officers said.

"Children are far more likely to be infected outside school and in the general community than within the school," said Marin County health officer Matt Willis. "In Marin for example, with now nearly 3 million accumulated student days across 110 open schools we've seen no occasions where a student infected an adult in school."

Same story in San Francisco. The health department says there's been zero infections reported among SFUSD's roughly 17,000 students and 3,000 staff that returned to in-person instruction a couple months ago

While Bay Area counties have moved at different paces when it comes to shutdowns, reopening and safety guidelines, those present Thursday were all in agreement on a return to in-person learning.

"On this we are 100% united," said Santa Clara County health officer Sara Cody.

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