October 19, 2020

Mississippi’s ability to reopen schools safely ‘touch and go’ if virus worsens, state health officer says

Mississippi’s top health officer said the clock is ticking on whether or not Mississippi will get the COVID-19 coronavirus spread under control enough to safely open schools in the fall.

“There’s not going to be any school if you have outbreaks,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs said, during a Thursday morning news conference with health leaders around the state. “It’s going to be touch and go all the way, right until we get there.”

Dr. Anita Henderson, a Hattiesburg pediatrician and president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Mississippi Chapter, said the pediatricians across the state believe it would be best for students to physically be in school, but only if it can be done safely.

“The pediatricians in the state want our children to be physically president in school this fall,” Henderson said. “In order for that to happen we have to find safe and effective ways of getting them back to school.

“We have about one month to get things under control in order for our children to get to school,” she said. “One month is a very short period of time in order to slow that curve and lower that curve.”

She said school districts and the state health department have tried to help schools follow CDC guidelines to help mitigate the risks of the virus including:

  • Keeping children in the classrooms and moving teachers around.
  • Having students eat in the classrooms, rather than cafeterias.
  • Keeping doors open in terms of lowering risk of touch.
  • “We know there’s going to be risks, we know children are going to get sick,” Henderson said.

    Dobbs said schools can create an environment in which classrooms are relatively safe, but he worries about the behavior people do outside the classrooms.

    “We can educate kids safely,” he said. “We can have kids have a good development experience and get those things they need in school, but we can’t do it if we are living in a society of reckless abandon where it’s more important to go to a bar and violate the rules than it is to have our kids go to school, our hospitals be able take care of us and all these other essential things. … I’m utterly frustrated by our inability to follow some very simple things and to believe crazy conspiracy nonsense as an excuse not to do the right thing.”

    Dobbs said all of the preparations and school administrators’ plans to create a safe environment will be for nothing if common sense isn’t practiced.

    “It makes no difference if 500 of them go to a bonfire or a big party like we’ve been seeing, that just destroys any sort of benefit you get from social distancing in an academic setting. I think that’s going to be a real challenge.”