Just two days after Governor Kevin Stitt issued new guidance on quarantine policies in Oklahoma schools, the Oklahoma chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is speaking out.
"The situation here is dire,” said Kari Webber, the Executive Vice President for the Oklahoma Chapter. “Until we get that under control. Until we get mitigation efforts put into place that will actually slow the spread in the community, then we won't be able to open our schools safely."
Webber said they agree with the Governor, that they want kids back in the classroom, but only when it’s safe to do so. They're concerned about these new state recommendations, that now say teachers and students exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom will not have to quarantine, but only if everyone was wearing a mask.
"If we were having 99% compliance in all of our school districts in all of our school settings for mask wearing and social distancing, that wouldn't be such a strong issue," said Webber.
Webber also feels the Governor misrepresented an AAP study from North Carolina that showed COVID-19 transmission in schools as being rare.
She said community spread during that study was much lower and there more restrictions.
"There were so many other mitigation efforts put into place and we don't have those in Oklahoma," said Webber.
The governor's office is pushing back though, questioning whether critics have fully read the new guidelines.
It said the state health department relied not only on the AAP study, but also a Rockefeller Foundation study, an Ohio Study, and several others.
The governor’s office sent statements Thursday.
“It’s disappointing to see the lengths some will go to in order to stand in the way of Governor Stitt putting students first and ensuring all Oklahoma children have the option to choose in-person learning. While clinging to vague references to CDC guidelines, they conveniently ignore that the CDC has said schools can reopen safely and responsibly and the CDC’s recent study that found counties with in-person learning actually had fewer cases than counties where students were denied the choice to return to their classrooms.” – Charlie Hannema, Chief of Communications
"Governor Stitt and I have heard from parents and teachers from across Oklahoma who are concerned with students struggling to learn from home and want all students to have the option to go to school in person. The recent changes to OSDH guidance for schools were driven by data from multiple sources, developed by public health experts and similar to policies that are safely in place in multiple states. This shouldn’t be political – we need to put our students first and allow them the choice to come back to their classrooms.” – Secretary of Education Ryan Walters
Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye also sent a statement.
OSDH continuously evaluates data to better provide guidance for leaders in schools and other sectors that best serve our communities. With this in mind, the American Association of Pediatrics study was one of many resources used to make the updates to school quarantine guidance. In this case, the data shows that when adhering to mitigation efforts, transmission of COVID-19 in schools is very minimal.
As a result, in order to qualify for the new school quarantine guidance announced on January 12, schools must have multiple mitigation measures in place to prevent transmission, as evidenced by the AAP study. The policy is not mandatory, but if a school chooses to implement it, it is contingent upon students wearing masks and social distancing. OSDH believes this will incentivize and reward schools for requiring students to wear masks at school.
Additionally, this guidance is intended only for exposures that occur in classrooms, and will still require exclusion from all public settings outside of the student’s in-person classroom setting. The new school guidance is intended to provide students and parents with the support they need, while reinforcing the need for continued preventative measures, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance.