March 24, 2021
Dr. Gale R. Burstein
Commissioner of Health
Erie County Department of Health
95 Franklin Street
Buffalo, NY 14202
WNY Students First strongly condemns your continued effort to mislead the public regarding the safety of schools, the severe health consequences of remote/hybrid instruction on children, and the role of the ECDOH in allowing schools in Erie County to reopen.
These efforts are anti-science, anti-children, and anti-education.
WNY Students First is demanding more honesty and transparency from you and Mr. Poloncarz on these critical issues.
Specifically, WNY Students First is asking you and Mr. Poloncarz to:
Provide Data Regarding In-School Transmission. The ECDOH has denied repeated requests to provide data on transmission rates in schools. Instead, you and Mr. Poloncarz continue to cite cases in schools, almost all of which were not transmitted in schools, and anecdotes in an attempt to defend your flawed approach toward schools and children. These efforts are intentionally misleading the public regarding the safety of schools and contradict the legitimate scientific reports from the CDC, the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard University, and the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases. Their research shows that the risk of transmission in schools is extremely, extremely low when masks are used properly at down to three feet of spacing. To suggest otherwise is misleading and detrimental. Of course, the risk of transmission in schools is not zero, but it isn’t far from it either. The point is not that there isn’t any risk (if that were the standard, we wouldn’t allow kids to ever attend school, get in a car, or do anything outdoors), it is that the health risks associated with closing schools are far greater than any perceived benefit of keeping schools closed. The science is clear at this point. Is it too much to ask our public health experts to follow that science, be transparent, and help educate the public regarding the safety of schools?
Address the Health Consequences of Remote/Hybrid Learning on Children. Pediatricians across the county are sounding the alarm on the devastating impact that remote learning is having on children. Doctors in Western New York recently published a statement in The Buffalo News citing the harmful effects that prolonged school closures are having on students. As the Health Commissioner, and as a pediatrician, it is unconscionable that you would continue to ignore this growing health crisis in our community, particularly since you have contributed to this problem.
Tell the Truth Regarding the County’s Role in Allowing Schools to Reopen. Beth Garvey, Senior Counsel and Senior Advisor to Governor Cuomo stated this week that “a local district could do less than six feet, provided that physical barriers are in place between students.” This is consistent with the current NYSDOH guidance which allows schools to reopen “at six feet of space in all directions between individuals or use of appropriate physical barriers between individuals.” It is this guidance that several counties in New York State have used to allow schools to reopen fully at less than six feet of social distancing between students with the use of masks and barriers. Either you and Mr. Poloncarz are lying to the public or Governor Cuomo is lying. Students and families, who have suffered needlessly from a lack of in-person education for over a year now, deserve an honest answer to this question. Our government officials need to be held accountable for this decision.
It isn’t too late to help. Every day matters for our kids.
Please choose science over fear, transparency over misinformation, and the health of our children over politics.
WNY Students First
cc: Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State
Erie County Superintendents
Erie County Legislature
Howard A. Zucker, Commissioner of Health for New York State
Mark C. Poloncarz, Erie County Executive
New York Association of Counties
New York State Association of County Health Officials