Health officers from all over the Bay Area gathered in San Francisco on Thursday to voice their support for the return of in-person learning for all students in the fall.
With most COVID-19 restrictions being lifted across the state as California prepares to fully reopen on June 15, the gathering marked the first time all 10 Bay Area health officers met in person since the onset of the pandemic over a year ago.
The health officers are pushing for the reopening of all schools and all grade levels for this fall, citing a significant drop in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations as well as higher vaccination rates among people at increased risk and children 12 and over.
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"We're seeing a significant rise in all sorts of issues; anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidality, alcohol and drug use and a host of other chronic mental health conditions. The data is clear. Kids must return to school. School must begin full time, in-person, full classrooms, this fall, if not, sooner," San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow said.
"We've chartered slightly different paths over the course of the pandemic, it was enormously difficult. On this we are 100 percent united," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. "We have learned more about the science of COVID, how it's spread, and how it impacts our schools and communities and we have pivoted, as necessary. And this is why at this moment and time we feel that schools should be open to all."
"We've seen first hand that the rate of transmission within schools is low," said Marin County Health Officer Dr. Matthew Willis. "We've found children are far more likely to be infected outside the school in the general community than within the school."
"This is an immense priority for all of us," San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said. "It's time to move past the remote learning model and back to the full range of learning and support that our educational communities provide. Bay Area health officers urge school administrators, teachers and parents to work together now to plan for full classrooms for all grades in the fall."
"The classroom environment is a very safe environment and it's getting more and more safe as most of our older students and staff are vaccinated," said Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano.
The officers said if schools reopen fully, they'll still have to follow guidelines set forth by the California Department of Public Health and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which requires masks for all students K-12.
While most of the state's public elementary schools reopened over the last few months, most middle schools and high schools remain closed for full-time in-person learning.