Dr. Gale R. Burstein
Commissioner of Health
Erie County Department of Health
95 Franklin Street
Buffalo, NY 14202
We are writing to help set the record straight regarding a few misleading comments made by you and Mr. Poloncarz during your March 9 update.
First, the school reopening guidelines from the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH), which have not been updated to incorporate the latest scientific research on in-school transmission or the reduced risk related to teacher vaccinations, are not in-line with the guidance from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). To suggest otherwise is extremely misleading.
As you are aware, the NYSDOH guidance clearly calls for social distancing of “six feet in all directions between individuals OR use of appropriate physical barriers between individuals.” By not recommending that schools use barriers and masks when distancing of six feet is not possible, the guidelines from the ECDOH are far more restrictive than the NYSDOH guidance released last summer.
Last week, officials in Onondaga County moved to allow schools to reopen fully at less than six feet spacing between students with the use of masks and barriers, consistent with the NYSDOH guidelines. They even went so far as to purchase the barriers so that schools there could reopen fully as soon as possible.
Instead of working to help schools reopen fully and safely, as officials in Onondaga County did last week, our County leaders have chosen to mislead the public.
In another example of misleading the residents of Erie County, Mr. Poloncarz, in attempting to address the risks related to in-school transmission, commented that there have been “a high number of cases that are spreading through in-person instruction.” This is also false. To equate cases in schools with transmission in schools is extremely misleading.
Most studies show that in-school transmission is extremely low and virtually non-existent when masks are used properly. Even the ECDOH has suggested that most of the transmission that has occurred in schools has been due to staff members not following the health guidelines. In short, the masks have worked.
Of course, parents, caregivers, teachers, and school boards would know more about in-school transmission in our region if the ECDOH would provide the data but the County has ignored our requests for more transparency. Sadly, our County officials have chosen fear over science, and obfuscation over transparency.
And then there is misleading by omission. The ECDOH continues to ignore the serious health issues that children are facing as a result of the prolonged school closures. No data seems to mean no problem in the political world.
But, pediatricians, parents, and students are trying to tell you that there is a growing health crisis among our youngest citizens that demands the attention of our public health officials. Doctors in Western New York recently sent a letter to the State outlining the serious health concerns related to remote/hybrid learning and recommending the full reopening of schools by relaxing the six feet distancing guideline.
Instead of leading on this critical issue, the ECDOH has decided to point fingers at State officials, hype the risks of in-school transmission (without providing data), and ignore the mental health problems of children.
This is no longer just a matter of not following the science. Our public health experts are now actively engaging in a campaign to misinform the public in a misguided effort to defend a policy which no longer makes sense scientifically and is unnecessarily harming children.
Enough is enough.
We ask you and County Executive Poloncarz to stop misleading the public, be more transparent, follow the science, and help our children.
WNY Students First
cc: Mark C. Poloncarz
Erie County Superintendents
Erie County Legislature