In California, more than 800 doctors and health care providers signed and sent a letter on Friday to Governor Newsom and Health and Human Services secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, recommending that school reopening no longer be tied to rate of community spread and that physical distancing guidelines change.
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"We asked them to change from a 4-6 foot mandate to a 3 feet recommendation," said Dr. Jeanne Noble, who helped draft the letter. "Going one step further, we don't have good data to suggest that physical distancing is even required, in context of masking."
Dr. Noble, the director of UCSF's emergency department COVID-19 response, points out that the six foot rule prevents many schools from reopening because of space limitations, saying, "These rules are harming children."
The letter and the CDC's new recommendation to reduce distancing from six to three feet inside classrooms with universal masking, is largely based on a study out of Massachusetts.
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"They followed half a million children K-12 and tens of thousands of teachers, and they found there was no difference in school-based transmission of COVID between the schools that used a three foot rule and the schools that used a six foot rule. There was universal masking," explained Noble.
"The collateral damage from these COVID policies is much much worse than COVID itself for our population of children and we know we can keep teachers safe, the majority of them are in the process of being vaccinated," said Noble, who has been working to get students back into classrooms during the pandemic.
But many teachers unions are pushing back. Regardless of the CDC recommendations, the Oakland Education Association told ABC7 on Friday that they will demand six feet of distance.
"While they may say that it's ok to be closer, understanding that we have multi-generational families at home. We want to take as many precautions as possible so as to not put students and families at risk," said Chaz Garcia, vice president of the Oakland Education Association.
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"They're wrapping themselves in the flag of equity. And that is so bad because this is the least equitable thing to do to kids," said Stanford pediatric infectious disease specialist, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, who also signed the letter.
"I've had a lot of opportunities over the last several months to talk to parents from all kinds of backgrounds and the minority parents, the black and brown families, they want their kids to go back to school. In fact, in many cases, the low income families who can't be home with their children are leaving their kids alone to be at school all by themselves. They really need this and it's safe. It is safe to go back with the protocols in place that we have now. And especially with the protocols that the CDC just approved," said Maldonado.
Gov. Newsom indicated the state would update school distancing guidance soon.
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