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Hawaii state epidemiologist wants in-person school classes

March 1, 2021 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s public schools should resume in-person classes as soon as possible because children can attend class safely, said Dr. Sarah Kemble, the state’s acting state epidemiologist

“As we have learned more about COVID-19 and schools, we have also learned that schools are not, as initially anticipated, amplifiers of COVID-19 transmission,” Kemble wrote in a letter last Friday to Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and the Hawaii Department of Education. “Rather schools are one of the safest environments for children when it comes to COVID-19.”

Kemble said in-person instruction provides children better educational, social, emotional and physical support than online instruction.

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She said universal mask usage, hygiene and keeping kids in cohorts can dramatically minimize the transmission risk of the coronavirus.

“Schools that have implemented mitigation measures are able to control COVID-19 transmission better than many community settings, where children may interact in less structured ways or attend gatherings with their families,” she wrote.

Few students in the state have returned to school 100% in-person. Elementary schools had the most students attending in-person classes daily at 12% of students in December. Just 5% of middle schoolers and 2% of high school students attended classes in-person daily, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Schatz said he would try his best to support Kemble’s recommendation.

“Throughout this pandemic, everybody has been correctly calling for decision-makers to rely on the science,” Schatz said in an interview with the Star-Advertiser on Friday. “And now the state’s epidemiologist is saying that it is better for public health to open up the schools, so everyone is going to try their very best to move in that direction.”

School employees have been a priority group for the coronavirus vaccine since January. A Hawaii State Teachers Association survey released on Feb. 12 reported that 52% of the union’s members had received one or two doses of the coronavirus vaccine and 16% had pending appointments. Another 4% were in the pipeline for appointments.

Fewer than 2% said they would never want to receive the coronavirus vaccine. More than 11,000 of the union’s 13,500 members responded to the survey.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association’s president, Corey Rosenlee, said Friday that he was committed to ensuring more students could return to in-person instruction safely — but declined further comment until after he hears from the union’s teacher leaders.