SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A group of 30 UCSF medical professionals has published an open letter, calling for California schools to be reopened by February 1.
Dr. Jeanne Noble, the Director of COVID response and Professor of Emergency Medicine at UCSF, is the lead author.
"We don't have much time. Our kids have been out of school for a long time and they are suffering," Noble told ABC7 News.
Her main argument points to data showing distance learning has led to mental health issues, especially to teenagers.
"We need to realize that closing schools has real measurable impact. It's not just, 'we can do this to help COVID numbers.' It's harming kids."
ABC7 Special Correspondent and pediatrician Dr. Alok Patel said he agrees reopening schools should be a priority and can be done safely.
"I think it's a fairytale to think distance learning works for every kid. It really comes down to a clear separation of have and have nots," said Patel of the side effects of distance learning.
Obviously, classrooms would look different for safety reasons.
Dr. Noble says along with universal masking, desks should be spaced "somewhere in the 3-6 foot range," and that windows and doors should remain open. "If you can do that, you can operate a school safely," said Noble.
But that's easier said than done, said Chaz Garcia with the Oakland Education Association, the union which represents teachers in Oakland.
"Knowing we have some classrooms without windows and with doors that open to hallways and not outside, there is serious risk in those areas," said Garcia about some Oakland classrooms.
Additionally, she says the availability of testing in Oakland has lagged behind other areas, something her union wants to see more of before coming back.
"It's about the community as a whole," said Garcia.
She said she is aware of the mental health impacts to some students as well as the disparities in access to distance learning.
"That is something that is really troubling," said Garcia. But she said with the resources available and with cases as high as they are, Feb. 1 is unrealistic.
"Our main concern is we don't risk lives," she added.
VACCINE TRACKER: How California is doing, when you can get a coronavirus vaccine
Some of that concern may soon be addressed as the vaccine distribution phase moves into Phase 1b, which includes teachers.
That phase could begin by the end of January, but Garcia said she hasn't heard about teachers in Oakland getting the vaccine yet.
"At this point in time, getting back to in-person instruction does not seem like it will be happening any time soon," said Garcia.
READ: Open letter calling for reopening schools by February
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