Health dept. says SCS should be able to reopen safely with precautions

Health department: Schools should be able to reopen safely with precautions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County commissioners asked multiple medical experts if it is safe for teachers and students in the Shelby County Schools system to return to in-person learning.

At this point, the responses of local, state and federal health experts all say the science shows it’s OK to open up school buildings. Nashville Metro schools return to class on Thursday. And that will leave SCS as the lone district in the state still doing 100 percent virtual learning.

SCS Superintendent defends district’s decision to delay in-person learning

Wednesday night, long lines formed once again at the Pipkin vaccination site in Midtown Memphis. Vaccinations are underway at four locations now, along with pharmacy partners as Shelby County waits for confirmation that the more contagious U.K. virus is here.

“There’s no way that we’re going to vaccinate people fast enough to keep up with the likely spread of this variant,” said Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Steven Threlkeld.

Shelby County will receive 11,900 doses of the vaccine from the state of Tennessee every week. That’s not enough to vaccinate teachers yet.

Shelby County commissioners asked COVID-19 task force member Dr. Jon McCullers and Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter if reopening Shelby County Schools is safe.

“We’re not seeing transmission within the schools,” said McCullers. “With the exception of certain gatherings like sporting events. But in the classroom, it has appeared to be very, very safe.”

Concerns surrounding when and how SCS students can return to classrooms

“So we fundamentally believe children need to be back in school,” said Haushalter. “We know locally we have not seen increased transmission in the schools.”

Earlier this week, Shelby County School Board member Sheleah Harris said she needs to see a re-opening plan from Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray and his staff.

”Not just a few bullet points wrapped in a nice PowerPoint,” said Harris in a statement. “But something we can confidently share that provides assurance.”

Beverly Robertson, president of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, is so worried, she sent SCS a letter.

”So my biggest concern is longer term, you know, how are we bringing young people back into the schools,” she said.

Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey from Germantown, who heads the senate’s education committee, tweeted:

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer tweeted:

Also on Wednesday, the new director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky joined the discussion about opening up America’s schools again.

”The vaccination of teachers is not a pre-requisite for re-opening schools,” she said.

Haushalter says SCHD has been in “significant planning” with all school districts in Shelby County about getting teachers vaccinated. But until more doses of the vaccine become available, that won’t be possible.

“The recent research is that transmission in schools is not greater than the community, and the schools can safely be opened with appropriate safety measures put into place,” said Haushalter.

In October 2020, SCS planned to return to the classroom in January 2021. School leaders made changes after coronavirus cases increased over the holidays.

Related | Shelby County Schools plans for January return to in-person learning

No comment from Ray, who has been unavailable this week to answer questions.

One other important note, Haushalter said Shelby County will probably add those 70 and older to the eligibility list by this weekend or next Monday, after approval from the state.

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