BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Dozens of local physicians are backing a push to allow schools across Western New York to adopt CDC guidelines on social distancing.
Just two days after the CDC issued new guidance on social distancing in classrooms, a group of 52 physicians named "Physicians for Safe and Open Schools" endorsed an ad in the Sunday edition of the Buffalo News (below), calling on the state and local school districts to allow all students to return to full-time, in-person learning five days per week.
"There is a group of very concerned physicians that believe that school is essential and that there is a huge downside to kids not being in school. And we want to get kids back to school safely, as quickly as possible."
Internal medicine and pediatric physician, Dr. Lauren Kuwik, M.D., is one of those doctors.
"I think that we have a lot of data, and the CDC agrees that with certain mitigation measures in place that kids can come back to school safely," said Dr. Kuwik during an interview on 7 Eyewitness News at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Under the new guidance from the CDC, students would be allowed to reduce social distancing from six feet to three feet, provided all students and staff are wearing face masks.
Those same physicians also helped pen a letter to the governor's office with the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association, urging state leaders to adopt those guidelines immediately, saying that student-to-student spread of the virus is extremely low in school environments.
That letter cited a January CDC Mortality and Morbidity Report and several studies, including one that found only seven out of 191 cases contracted by students attending schools in-person in Wisconsin could be linked to the school setting.
"We know the data shows that less than five percent of the time that it's actually transmitting in school, whether it's at six feet distancing or three feet, as long as you have other mitigating factors and ventilation," Kuwik said.
But the most recent data from Erie County suggests otherwise.
During the county's COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, the county executive and county health commissioner said the community transmission rate is more than 200 cases over the last seven days, double the new CDC guidelines for distancing in the middle and high school levels.
County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein also said they are seeing spread in private schools that are using the three feet distance rule.
"...if that's really happening, then we have a much bigger problem on our hands in Western New York than 'should schools reopen or not.'"
Dr. Kuwik says those cases usually include children, staff, or teachers that contracted the virus in the community but happened to be at school.
"If we truly are having 247 or more than 200 cases of in-school transmission a week -- which I doubt we are based on the national data of it only being five percent of the time transmitted in schools -- if that's really happening, then we have a much bigger problem on our hands in Western New York than 'should schools reopen or not,'" she said.
The ENSSA's letter also cited worsening mental health issues among students as a further cause for returning to full in-person learning.
According to the letter, a recent CDC report found the number of emergency department visits among school-aged children younger than 18 increased by 66% over a similar period pre-pandemic.
You can read the ENSSA's full letter to the governor's office here: