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Oklahoma Physicians Groups Say They Can't Support Statewide Return to School in August

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Two physicians groups say under current conditions, they can’t support a statewide return to in-person learning next month at Oklahoma’s K–12 schools, but they do have recommendations for reopening.

The Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians and the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics say there’s too much variation in how the coronavirus is spreading in the state.

While the State Board of Education last week rejected proposed COVID safety protocols based on counties’ rates of transmission, the academies recommend using that as guidance for reopening schools and have set a higher bar for returning to school. They recommend counties have 14 days of declining new cases, 14 days of declining positive test rates or no more than 10 new cases per 100,000 population — a calculation that can be done regardless of an area's actual population — before resuming in-person instruction.

The protocols the state board of education voted down would have allowed in-person classes until a district’s county had at least 25 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population.

"There should be clear guidance from our state on specific county-level data, the indicators that show it’s safer to open specific school districts. Remember, the word I used is ‘safer.’ There isn’t necessarily any safe time to open, per se, because there’s always a risk of getting infected," said Dr. Steve Crawford, speaking on behalf of OAFP.

The academies also recommend every K–12 student and teacher wear a mask, with few exceptions.

"We just don’t find any evidence that masks are dangerous, that some people have mentioned, or hazardous for children, particularly even down to kindergarten," Crawford said.

The academies are also calling for better guidance on how districts can achieve physical distancing, like potentially separating students into cohorts.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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