Could schools reopen this fall? Richmond health director weighs risk

Local News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Local doctors are weighing in on the possibility of schools reopening in the fall.

Richmond and Henrico Health Director Dr. Danny Avula presented key data at Thursday’s Richmond School Board meeting. He said we should not see a large spike in COVID-19 cases if schools take precautions. 

“The data right now is showing us that schools are not a big driver of community transmission, if done well,” said Avula. 

Dr. Avula said the context of Virginia, which has seen a low positivity rate in recent weeks, is important to keep in mind.

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“If we were in Florida or Texas or Arizona, we would be having a very different conversation about schools,” he told 8News.

Dr. Avula said data shows that children aged 10 to 12 and younger get and spread COVID-19 at lower rates, and are also unlikely to spread the virus to adults. The data comes from other countries which have kept schools open through the pandemic or have since reopened, as well as U.S. childcare centers which have stayed open during the pandemic. 

“We’ve got to think about different precautions in place for older kids versus younger kids and that it might be much more possible to bring groups of younger kids back to school,” said Avula. 

But what about teachers and staff? Dr. Avula said teachers aged 60 to 65 and older with underlying health conditions should opt for more virtual teaching options. However, he said the majority of teachers should be safe with precautions. 

Avula said for reopening to work, schools need to take precautions like wearing masks, symptom screening, hand washing and physical distancing. 

He said schools should weigh a child’s risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 with the risk of not being in school. “Not only are kids having significant academic losses as a result of that, but there are social and behavioral impacts on kids as well,” Avula said. 

The Richmond School Board has not made a decision on reopening yet, but they are leaning toward a staggered reopening plan. However, Dr. Avula said staggering could add another layer of complexity and does not necessarily decrease the number of contacts students and staff are exposed to. 

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