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As vaccines are on the way, schools need to reopen

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Russ Fulcher

The Coronavirus pandemic has been the dominating issue in our country for months now, and with the recent debate surrounding subjects such as unemployment and schools re-opening, it’s important to evaluate the steps the president and his administration have taken to ensure America will get through these challenging times. To do that, we must look past partisanship and focus on the science of the problem, our accomplishments thus far and how we continue forward.

With the goal of developing vaccines in a record time and delivering 300 million doses by January 2021, the Trump Administration started “Operation Warp Speed” in April. This large-scale mobilization of private industry and government agencies is helping to ensure that vaccines are not only delivered quickly, but that they are also safe and effective. The operation has invested in more than 14 possible vaccines, of which as of this writing, five show promising results and are entering clinical trials. While pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca and Pfizer are included in that mix, Moderna’s vaccination has been co-signed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to enroll around 30,000 people in a study to view the protections it can offer against COVID-19. Given more time, it’s reasonable to expect that effective and safe vaccines are not far away.

Safely reopening schools is at the top of every parent’s mind. Many want to see schools open at their appropriate times in the fall, while others say that it’s too dangerous to open until there is a vaccine. Meanwhile, experts agree that in-person schooling is necessary for the well-being of children, and that solely online schooling leads to gaps in academic achievements. According to a credible population-based study in Geneva, Switzerland, children are more resilient to infection from the virus and are less likely to become seriously ill. Since the start of the pandemic through July 4th, the rate of infection that required hospitalization for school-aged children was roughly 1 in 20,000. Studies have also shown that schools with known cases of COVID-19 had low transmission rates — or even none at all.

While this is reassuring, it doesn’t suggest we ignore proper precautions. The American Academy of Pediatrics has presented guidelines for schools like frequent hand washing, and converting large spaces, such as libraries and gymnasiums, into learning spaces. Through the CARES Act, Congress authorized funds for schools to use to safely re-open. Specifically, there is $13.2 billion for K-12, $14 billion for higher education, and $3 billion for the governor’s education fund. Of this, Idaho received $48 million.

The issuance of “stimulus” money is nothing more than deficit spending and can never replace an economy. Already, Congress has diverted trillions in taxpayer money toward problems created by the virus via the CARES Act, so it’s absolutely critical that we utilize these resources effectively. Our main focus must be to get businesses running, open up our schools, and ensure community safety. Additionally, as part of the CARES Act, $150 billion in taxpayer money was aside for states to use… and so far not one state has used its entire allotment.

Decades from now, we will still be looking back at the year 2020 and (appropriately) questioning which decisions were good, and which were bad. But right now we need the pandemic to be over as quickly and safely as possible. Please be encouraged that progress toward effective vaccines is being made, and that the Trump Administration has both science and safety as a top priority.

Russ Fulcher serves as the U.S. Representative for Idaho’s 1st congressional district. 

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