WNY Students First is calling on Mr. Poloncarz to demand the resignation of Dr. Gale Burstein for not fulfilling her obligation to protect the health and well-being of children in Erie County. Not only are the ECDOH policies directly harming school-aged children, they are doing absolutely nothing to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Over the past few weeks, representatives from several school districts in Erie County have reached out to WNY Students First to express their frustration with Dr. Burstein and what they see as a continued effort by the ECDOH to actively work against those schools that would like to reopen for the benefit of students.
Specifically, Dr. Burstein has apparently threatened those schools that plan on reopening at less than six feet of social distancing between students by stating that the ECDOH will quarantine all students and staff in a classroom or on a bus when there is a confirmed Covid-19 case. This is a highly abnormal policy that is not being followed in other areas and has no scientific merit.
The ECDOH school quarantine policy runs counter to the latest scientific research that clearly shows that transmission rates in schools are extremely low when masks are used, and conflicts with the recently updated CDC guidance, which defines a close contact as “someone who was within 6 feet of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period.”
Despite the growing body of scientific evidence and the conservative CDC guidance, the ECDOH appears to be taking a much more aggressive and radical approach to quarantining students and staff members in schools. The sole purpose of this extreme policy can only be to keep schools closed, since it is not backed by science.
The latest effort by the ECDOH continues a disturbing pattern of overreach whereby the County has worked to prevent the safe reopening of schools in Erie County. In contrast with other counties in New York State, Dr. Burstein overruled the NYSDOH earlier this year by not allowing schools in Erie County to reopen at less than six feet of social distancing with the use of masks and barriers. In addition, the ECDOH has arbitrarily recommended that some schools in Erie County close even when health guidelines were being followed and there was no in-school transmission.
By any objective measure, these policies are not working. Erie County has had one of the highest transmission rates in the entire State. Indeed, the only thing that the ECDOH school policies have definitively accomplished is to set students behind academically and harm the mental health of many school-aged children.
In calling for Mr. Poloncarz to demand the resignation of Dr. Burstein, WNY Students First cites the following ECDOH actions and policies that run counter to public interests:
As County officials have noted previously, Erie County has indeed taken a very different approach than almost every other county in New York State with respect to schools. County health officials have enriched themselves through the unusual practice of paying overtime to salaried managers while making every effort to overrule the NYSDOH to keep schools closed and to mislead the public about the safety of schools.
The result: a growing mental health crisis for students, severe educational losses for children, and one of the highest transmission rates in the entire State.
It is time to recognize what everyone already knows, namely that not only are these policies not effective in reducing transmission rates in our community, they are unnecessarily harming children and costing taxpayers millions of dollars. As they say, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
WNY Students First is calling on County Executive Poloncarz to find new leadership for the ECDOH, and for the Health Department to redirect its efforts and financial resources to provide the support that so many children desperately need after more than a year of remote instruction.
Taxpayer funds should be going to help kids that have been left behind by the County during the pandemic, not to line the pocket book of Dr. Burstein. The community would be better served if this money instead went to the schools, teachers, doctors, and social workers that will be called upon to help repair the damage that the County officials, including Dr. Burstein, have helped create.
WNY Students First looks forward to hopefully working together with the County under new leadership at the ECDOH to help establish a more science-based, balanced, and collaborative process for reopening schools and supporting school-aged children with input from local doctors and all school district stakeholders, including students, parents, caregivers, and teachers.
WNY Students First
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