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Baltimore should return to virtual learning | READER COMMENTARY

Kellee Thompson of Baltimore holds her nine-year old son, Kameron Brooks, as Doni Nachman, right, administers the nasal swab test at the PCR COVID testing site operated by Accu Reference in partnership with Baltimore City. The youngster needed to be tested to return to school. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).

As a parent of a 4th grade student at Hampden Elementary/Middle School, I am very concerned about Baltimore City Public School System’s failure to adequately protect my child during this latest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. As cases climb, the only responsible course of action at this time is to revert to online-only virtual learning. I agree that this is a far inferior method of instruction to in-person learning, but it is clear from our experience during the fall semester that the testing program in place in the city is incapable of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.

During the BCPSS winter break, we saw case numbers of the omicron variant of the SARS-COV-2 virus skyrocket abroad and in our own country with the predictable effects of staffing shortages across industries and hospitalization rates threatening to overwhelm hospitals across the country. Prior to the beginning of the winter break, each week brought an ever-increasing number of positive testing results in Hampden EMS’s community, culminating in two outbreaks during December and a number of staff and student positive results immediately prior to the start of break. It is obvious testing will not contain the spread of the omicron variant, and it appears to offer a false sense of security that the spread of COVID-19 within our schools is contained. The reality is that cases within my child’s school increased with every week that went by, almost exclusively before the omicron variant had begun to spread (”Maryland Gov. Hogan issues executive orders to fight COVID surge, stops short of mask, vaccine mandates,” Jan. 4).

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I urge Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises to seriously reconsider BCPSS’s decision to continue in-person learning for the months of January and February. Please move BCPSS to virtual learning at least for the next two months in the hope that the omicron variant “burns itself out” and the number of new cases ceases to rise at such an alarming and never before seen rate. While some children seem to weather a COVID-19 infection without much immediately apparent damage, not all children have such an easy time of it. Many of Baltimore’s children (and teachers and staff) will be hospitalized, further burdening an already overloaded health care system. Some of our school children might die; these deaths will be completely avoidable. And for all children, staff, and teachers that are infected, we have little idea of their long-term prospects following infection, but our country’s experience with “long COVID” does not bode well for such a large number of infections.

Please do the responsible, if difficult, thing and move BCPSS to online-only learning.

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Michael Johnson, Baltimore

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