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Doctor Tweets Scorching Thread on How America Is Not “Even Remotely Prepared” for Schools to Reopen

American schools aren't prepared to reopen

It’s a terrible idea to reopen schools in America too soon. Considering our inept handling of the pandemic and the meager systems of safety, healthcare, and testing that we have in place, we’re all but asking for further calamity, wrapped in a disaster, inside a catastrophe—a Russian nested doll of horrors.

Schools have become a “between a rock and a hard place” issue: many parents cannot hope to return to work while still overseeing full-time childcare and education (not that their offices or places of work should necessarily be open either). But enacting comprehensive measures to make schooling viable has proven all-but-impossible in this country, blame we can largely lie at the feet of politicians who have school gutted funding, battled healthcare expansion, and snipped away at the social safety net for decades.

Parents also cannot afford to risk their children’s health—and their own, and that of teachers and staff—amidst a still-faltering national response and rising cases of coronavirus. Under-funding, partisan squabbles, and a lack of regard for human lives when politicians make the economy their foremost priority have sparked what feels like an infinite feedback loop of incompetence. This is the case in many aspects of American life, but schools are all the more difficult to manage because of often cramped quarters and young populations that cannot reasonably be expected to maintain social distancing and sanitary guidelines at all times.

My mother was an elementary school teacher for decades, and I can’t count the number of times she came down with a cold or flu because it was making rounds in the classrooms. The same scenario even holds for older students who might be expected to abide by hand-washing protocols: when I was in college, entire dorms were notorious for becoming hotspots of outbreak for the same illness. Sharing indoor facilities is a recipe for quick community spread. We know this, and yet many forces are still trying to reopen schools despite hazards already happening here and cautionary tales from other countries that reopened schools too soon like Israel.

But my own parsing of the news and personal anecdotes pale in comparison to the opinions of an actual medical professional and parent battling these issues every day. On Twitter, Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, a doctor, community advocate, and former Texas Congressional candidate, posted a thread that lambasted any suggestion that American schools were prepared to reopen. It’s not just the schools at fault—our scattershot healthcare system does not have the proper mechanisms in place even months into the pandemic, especially when it comes to testing and tracing.

Dr. Gandhi’s frustration breaks through from his first sentence and gathers excoriating steam throughout subsequent posts.

With his insight and considerable experience from the front lines, Dr. Gandhi is able to highlight not only the moral failings of our politicians but the sheer technicalities that make a safe reopening for many schools impossible. Our crumbling healthcare infrastructure, paired with the country’s lack of resources and testing delays, means that every day that passes without the results of a single test could be a COVID-19 timebomb for a school and its community. And all it takes is for one infected kid to go untested to spark a potentially dangerous and deadly community outbreak.

Callous politicians who seem indifferent to sacrificing the nation’s youth on the altar of the economy like to point out the low death rate among children. But while it’s true that fewer children die from coronavirus, some still do, an unimaginable risk to ask parents to take. Further, complications from the virus can be brutal and lingering, even causing life-long damage. And one of the reasons that there’s been comparatively better statistics with children is that schools were so quick to close at the start of the pandemic.

Those are just the risks for children. Teachers, especially those of a more advanced age or with at-risk conditions, are essentially being told to line up for potential slaughter. (Teacher friends of mine are posting “if I should die while teaching under unsafe conditions” memes on social media, emphasizing the truly terrifying position they’re being placed in.) The same holds true for administrative and janitorial staff, and the family members of all students and those related in any fashion to a school district. How could grandparents, at the highest risk of virus fatality and complications, risk seeing or caring for their school-going grandkids? What do you do when a parent is high-risk, but their job is forcing them to come in because schools are technically reopened? The list of horrific scenarios and quagmires could fill a textbook.

America is nowhere near ready to reopen its public schools, and this is a dire situation that will only further exacerbate the staggering income inequality in this country. Private schools can make their own provisions and often have far superior resources. Some wealthy families are simply paying for homeschool teachers or creating super-exclusive “micro-schools” with their friends. I’d hardly blame any teacher who looked into these teaching options, considering such micro-schools would place a premium on their health rather than toss them into a potential viral cesspool.

But millions of kids are going reap the consequences of our politicians’ inability to put country over partisanship and their unwillingness to invest in these children’s future. The problems that Dr. Gandhi names aren’t insurmountable. They are, however, expensive and require bureaucratic organization and productivity this administration has proved incapable of undertaking.

Meanwhile, President Trump and his cronies continue to beat the drum that health risks to “almost immune” children are low, and that, helpfully, the virus “will go away like things go away.” This means he is essentially admitting there’s is a significant chance your child could get the coronavirus at school—but you shouldn’t worry about it. Experts like Dr. Gandhi are here to tell you otherwise. At least the two men seem to agree that Trump’s administration has no plans to take any proactive steps going forward to safeguard the health of young Americans.

(via Dr. Pritesh Gandhi on Twitter, image: Pexels/Twitter)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.