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Craig: Teachers Think Return To Classrooms Too Soon

WHEELING — Ohio County Education Association President Jenny Craig says teachers locally and across the state believe it is too soon to return to in-person learning as COVID numbers continue to rise.

Though school staff age 50 and over are receiving COVID vaccines — Ohio County Schools began vaccinating staff Friday — the benefits of the shots won’t become effective until well after the Jan. 19 date when students return to school, she said.

“It’s not just across the state — or even Ohio County in particular — but the vast majority of members we have polled in the OCEA are not in favor of a five-day mode,” Craig said.

“What we are hearing in our county and across the state is that the majority think this is very reckless, it’s too soon and very dangerous.”

Gov. Jim Justice announced at the end of December the plans to return to in-person learning. Decisions would now be guided by the Department of Health and Human Resources map. Elementary and middle school students would return to class full-time, regardless of a county’s color on that map. The reasoning, Justice said, was that the chances of virus spread were much smaller for students younger than 15.

High school students would return to school full-time unless their county was “red,” the highest-risk category, on the DHHR map.

Yet the number of positive COVID cases continue to rise locally, Craig said, and likely won’t decline soon.

“We have not even seen or hit the expected post-holiday surge experts are predicting,” she said. “Yet we are going to go back to classrooms at full capacity right at the time those surges are expected to hit, with no more protections than what we have.”

Most teachers, Craig said, would rather remain on remote learning and improve that method of instruction if counties are at the threshold of “orange” or “red” on the DHHR map. The best move, she added, would be to get vaccinated as many faculty and staff who want the shot, and have the time period allotted for them to build immunity.

But a vaccination now might not be enough, Craig explained.

“This is only the first dose, and the second will need to be given in four weeks, according to the (Centers For Disease Control),” she said. “Full inoculation — of approximately 94 percent — doesn’t occur until 14 days after the second dose.”

Many teachers feel that with rising case numbers and an expected uptick in COVID cases, state officials are rushing a move to in-person learning in the classrooms, Craig said.

“To move to full capacity classrooms at this time is dangerous,” she said.

As for students, children under 18 cannot yet get the vaccine, according to Craig. Also, the mutation that started in other parts of the world and has started to crop up in the United States is believed to be more highly transmissible, and particularly more so among children.

“That’s a big concern of ours,” she said. “Even if we get more faculty and staff vaccinated, there is a risk the children will spread it and take it home.

“The thing we keep losing sight of is our health outcomes in West Virginia are not very good, and we are the highest in the country for the number of children being raised by grandparents. So that is a concern of ours,” Craig said.

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