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No Dr. Oz, We Shouldn't Reopen Schools Because 'Only' 2-3% of People Will Die

On a recent episode of “Hannity,” Dr. Mehemet Oz sparked outrage when he suggested schools should reopen because only 2-3% of people would die as a result. When Sean Hannity asked him what it would take to get the economy back on track, the TV doctor replied:

I tell ya, schools are a very appetizing opportunity. I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing the opening of schools may only cost us 2–3% in terms of total mortality. Any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into a school where they are safely being educated, being fed and making the most of their lives, with the theoretical risk on the back side, might be tradeoff some folks would consider.

I gasped when I saw the clip, and re-read his words over and over. Aside from the horror of calling anyone’s death an “appetizing” opportunity, to put the figure he mentioned in perspective, 2-3% mortality would mean death to hundreds of thousands of people.

As the parent of a child with Down syndrome (as well as someone who has numerous friends with disabilities themselves or children with disabilities), Dr. Oz’s comments deeply concern me. Yes, kids should be be safe. Yes, kids should be fed. But there are ways to accomplish this goal without putting children like my daughter at risk.

People who have medically fragile conditions are terrified right now. They know this virus hits their population much harder. The virus could hit them, and their necessary support staff. Even folks who have disabilities who aren’t considered as complex or medically fragile are frightened. They, or their parents, fear that if they were to get sick, they may not receive vital care due to new triage policies and medical rationing. Their child may be denied certain rights. 

Aside from considering populations that would be disproportionately affected, we need to remember that reopening schools would not just affect children, it would affect everyone who is involved in the school system. For example, at my daughter’s school, you have to be very involved if you want your child with a significant disability to be fully included. If schools were to reopen, parents like me who attend school with their kids would also potentially be exposed to COVID-19. Here’s a small snapshot of other people who would be exposed as well:

  • Staff
  • Contractors
  • Suppliers
  • Volunteers
  • Social workers and community agency representatives
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Local regional high schools
  • Community colleges
  • Colleges
  • Business partners
  • Military partners
  • Local, national and regional political leaders
  • Local media

When you look at a school system like my daughter’s with about 19,700 students and approximately 2,600 employees — and add in all the other people I just mentioned plus their immediate families — the number of people that can be infected by reopening schools is much larger than most would realize. 

In my state, Virginia — where we have the only governor who is also a doctor — the stay at home orders have been extended until June 10. Here is a quote from Governor Northam’s press conference just this week:

The actions we have taken as a state are having an effect. They are slowing the spread and flattening the curve. We are still seeing new cases, of course, and unfortunately, too many deaths. But in large part, these are still cases that were contracted weeks ago. So when people say it’s time to stop, and get back to normal, they’re wrong. Right now, the models, and our hospitals expect that we’ll be able to handle the expected surge in patients. If we let off the breaks and try to go back to the way things were, we’ll see another spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals.

Reopening schools before we know what we are doing, and having a resurgence of COVID-19 cases that would require shutting down again, would be disastrous beyond words. I cannot even imagine that. 

We all know opening our country back up is a complex operation. A school system is like a small city. It will be just as complex. Will school look the same? Will classes have to be smaller? Will many more precautions have to be in place? What budget cuts are in the immediate future so schools can plan to reopen in a sustainable manner? 

These questions are all above my pay grade. The weight of the world, and our children, is literally on the shoulders of our leaders. I pray every night, and have faith that our leaders will all do the right thing in the long run. They have to. 

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Header image via Wikimedia Commons