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Before schools reopen, Maryland leaders should take these steps [Letter]

Experts now expect the coronavirus pandemic to affect Maryland through 2020 and into 2021 until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed to Marylanders. Therefore several steps must be taken before reopening schools in September.

First, a medical test determining whether a person has immunity to COVID-19 must be widely administered, especially to students, teachers and administrators.

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Second, statewide protocols need to be established when a student tests positive for the coronavirus. Will all students in the affected class be sent home and quarantined for two weeks or just those who don’t have immunity to the virus? Will other classes in the school remain open? How will those students be monitored?

Third, school administrators must add additional lunch periods to allow for greater social distancing and decide if sports programs and physical education classes should be suspended for the fall semester.

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Finally, the Maryland General Assembly must convene to establish “safe harbor” operating standards for businesses and schools. Attorneys will file hundreds of burdensome and possibly frivolous lawsuits when virtually any employee or student tests positive for COVID-19. Most small- and medium-size businesses cannot afford high attorney fees and million-dollar judgments. They will go out of business leaving thousands of Marylanders unemployed.

Maryland’s private schools are especially vulnerable to lawsuits. Unlike the public school system where liability is limited by law, private schools have no such protection. The coronavirus could prove to be an “extinction event” for private schools if action is not taken to prudently limit their liability when operating under state-determined safety standards.

Doctors and nurses are working day and night to save lives. The General Assembly in Annapolis must now act to protect Maryland’s businesses and schools and their employees and students.

CHRIS PAYNE

Bel Air

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