BOSTON – Moms and dads from across the state gathered for a virtual press conference on Monday, hoping to put pressure on the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] to restore a virtual learning option for parents wary of COVID.
Last winter DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley kicked off the process that ultimately led to the full face-to-face learning that began this fall. By then, the Delta variant had emerged, triggering a mini-wave of infections in Massachusetts, especially among the unvaccinated – the largest group of whom congregates in elementary schools five days a week.
It scares parents of children with pre-existing conditions.
“I am the mother of a 5 year old boy who has asthma,” a mother from Worcester said at the press conference. âI feel really vulnerable because my son has been asked to come to a nursery school in our community. But there is no HVAC system.
Her son did not show up for kindergarten at that school, she said. Instead, she teaches it at home.
A Boston mother said she had previously been contacted by a truancy officer for preventing her three children from attending school, but said she was holding on.
âI firmly believe that if I send my children to school, I send them to death,â she said. âIt’s a death sentence.
A mother from Rehoboth said she felt compelled to keep her son out of school again this year because the vaccination rate in her town is low.
âAlthough I am worried about his mental health because he has not been to school since March 2020, his physical health is a bigger concern right now,â she said.
âSchools, in my opinion, are relatively safe, as long as all staff and children wear masks,â said Dr. Katrina Byrd, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.
In fact, infection rates in Massachusetts schools have remained at low levels since the state began tracking, peaking at 0.17% in mid-April of this year. In its first report of the new academic year, DESE reported 1,230 cases of COVID among students. That’s an infection rate of 0.13%.
Byrd said it’s understandable that parents want to prevent their children from contracting COVID, and there is good reason to avoid it. Even if the symptoms of infection are mild, something serious can happen later: MIS-C.
âTwo to eight weeks later, they are hospitalized because they are sick with a severe fever, low blood pressure; sometimes they’re so sick they have to be on a ventilator, âByrd said. “And we can’t predict which child it’s going to happen to.”
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