Thirty doctors and other health care professionals at the University of California at San Francisco have published an open letter calling for the reopening of California’s public elementary and secondary schools by Feb. 1 or “as soon as possible.”

“Teachers and other school staff are key players in this process and should be viewed as essential workers. Their health and safety are paramount. Fortunately, we now have robust data demonstrating that schools may be safely reopened, and school-based transmission [of COVID-19] remains very infrequent when universal masking and social distancing rules are carefully followed,” the doctors wrote.

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“Given the significant negative health and educational consequences of school closures for children and their families, coupled with robust data supporting reopening with appropriate mitigation strategies, we strongly support efforts to reopen California schools as soon as possible,” they continued, adding:

As pediatricians, internists, infectious-disease specialists, epidemiologists, emergency physicians, and other health care professionals, we believe these strategies need immediate support and implementation, so that all schools can reopen for in-person learning by February 1st or as soon as permitted by the state.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom currently plans to reopen elementary schools for the youngest students sometime in February. Newsom is permitting middle schools and high schools to reopen when the county in which they are located is in the so-called “red tier,” a lower rate of infections.

The health care professionals who signed the open letter say the consequences of COVID-19 lockdowns and the closing down of schools are paramount, from the 10 months of lost learning to the social isolation of students.

A study from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland found that among 5,000 young people ages 12 to 17, there were severe health challenges that those youths faced. Twenty-eight percent polled felt lonely “most of the time” or “all of the time,” 22% felt stressed and nervous most or all of the time, and 69% said they were going to bed later during the COVID-19 lockdown than before.

In mid-December, however, California’s leading teachers unions opposed any school reopenings without increased funding for safety precautions. 

“Let us be clear, no one wants to be back in our classrooms with our students where we know they learn best, more than educators,” a California Teachers Association letter said. “Safety, however, should not be a relative or subjective term up to regional or political interpretation.”

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