Connecticut is on the verge of making a critical decision regarding the fight against the COVID-19 health emergency. Prior to May 20, the governor will need to make a decision about whether to extend the stay-at-home order or open state businesses and schools. Our leaders must continue to listen to the advice of top health experts and not succumb to pressure to reopen public schools and businesses prematurely. Easing up on social distancing too quickly could be deadly.

Jeff Leake

Before a decision can be made, a lot needs to be done. Now is not the time to undo all the sacrifices and progress that Connecticut residents and businesses have made over the past few months to stop the spread of the virus. We need caution and common sense. We can’t play Russian roulette with residents’ lives.

Under the guidance of the State Department of Public Health, Gov. Ned Lamont has been making decisions and issuing executive orders based on data, not dates. His actions have helped prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and saved lives. But Connecticut is in the crosshairs between hot spots New York City and Boston. And even with all the actions taken in Connecticut to help flatten the curve, we remain in the top five most infected states per capita.

Some vocal opponents of the governor are calling for him to reopen the state and get back to business as usual. But we urge caution. The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says that unless we follow guidelines of gradually phasing into a reopening, “it’s gonna backfire.”

‘Schools by their very nature are not conducive to social distancing, and special accommodations must be made to change that.’

We agree. Reopening the state must be done methodically. Governor Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group is a good first step. This group is taking a structured view of the problem and how to move forward, and that must include new guidelines for schools to reopen safely and successfully, whether that happens next month or in the fall.

Before we send students, teachers, and staff back to school, the state must develop and implement new procedures and protocols to keep them safe. Schools by their very nature are not conducive to social distancing, and special accommodations must be made to change that. These include staggered start times, new lunchtime and classroom seating formats, changes in hallway passing periods, reductions in large classrooms, and a host of other changes to ensure proper social distancing measures are followed and we are not putting students and teachers in harm’s way.

Schools will need to be disinfected daily, with procedures in place for the continual cleaning of classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms, as well as commonly shared areas and equipment, including computers and desks.

And that’s just the beginning. What’s even more vital to the process of reopening our state is plenty of personal protective equipment and the ability to perform comprehensive coronavirus testing, tracing, and tracking, in order to safeguard the health of our residents. Such testing is not currently being conducted in a comprehensive way anywhere in the U.S.; and until it is, we cannot allow our students and their teachers to go back to school, where they and their families could become collateral damage.

Let’s stay the course and continue to flatten the curve, saving the lives of our family members, friends, and neighbors. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

 Jeff Leake is President of the Connecticut Education Association.

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