Murphy, our schools are less safe than a bar in New York | Editorial

Published: Sep. 02, 2021

Let a case study from California serve as a warning. An unvaccinated elementary school teacher thought she merely had allergies and took off her mask to read a book to students, nearly all of whom were too young to be vaccinated.

She tested positive for the highly contagious Delta variant two days later – as did half her class, mostly the kids sitting near the front, along with six students in another grade, and eight guardians and siblings. The outbreak affected a total of 26 people, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s no guarantee that the five-year-olds are going to wear their masks,” noted Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “Can we at least have the adults in the room act like adults, and be vaccinated?”

The short answer is no, because our governor hasn’t even required that much. Phil Murphy’s ahead of most governors, yes, but make no mistake: The vaccine mandate he’s put in place for New Jersey school staff is dangerously flimsy. If we want to protect kids, this is not meeting that basic standard.

The problem is that he doesn’t require school staff to show proof of vaccination or submit to any testing until October 18, more than a month after school starts – letting unvaccinated teachers roam the hallways until then, and even afterwards, offering them a testing option.

“It’s like saying to a person with a match, go into that room with all the gas on,” Halkitis said. “The minute they infect one child, the whole room becomes infected.”

For another preview of what’s to come, just look at a Newark charter school, Robert Treat Academy, that started in-person on Aug. 2 and has already reverted to all-remote after on-site testing found 11 staffers positive for covid.

We don’t allow a testing option for other preventable diseases, like polio or measles. We mandate the vaccine. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the governor of Washington state aren’t offering a testing loophole in their vaccine mandates. So why is the Murphy administration?

“Basically, what they’re saying is, there’s going to be unvaccinated people in the classroom,” Halkitis concluded.

And there’s no remote learning option this year, other than as a contingency plan for covid outbreaks, the governor says. You have to send your kids to school, by law. This is a danger that millions of families across New Jersey have taken great care to avoid. Now, suddenly, the government is forcing them into it.

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg is part of a group of Highland Park parents who just signed a petition demanding that the governor do more. Her son is too young to get the shot and has Type 1 diabetes, putting him at greater risk of complications.

He’s been out of the classroom since March 2020 and can finally go back, she said – but with no assurance that even the teachers will be vaccinated. His classmates deserve better, too. “You have a moral responsibility to do more than what the governor has said in his executive order,” she said.

Under Murphy’s E.O., a teacher, aide or bus driver could wait until the beginning of October before getting the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot, after being unvaccinated among children for a month.

And the testing loophole is enormous. This testing won’t start until Oct. 18th, and even then, can’t possibly keep up with Delta. An unvaccinated aide could test negative on a Friday, then positive on Tuesday. Any adult could have the virus. “It creates a really dangerous situation,” agreed Corey Basch, who chairs the public health department at William Paterson University.

Instead, what Murphy should have done was required at least the first shot of any vaccine before school opens, with no testing option. Eligible kids should also be mandated to get it, because the older kids can infect one another, and mix with younger kids in sports and aftercare.

Our state’s largest teacher’s union, the NJEA, is supporting Murphy’s mandate. But that includes his loophole, which effectively defends the right of unvaccinated adults to be in the classroom. It’s an odd twist, after the union fought to keep schools from reopening on safety grounds last year, picking apart their plans on things like ventilation.

Parents have been through hell in this pandemic, Weill-Greenberg says. Now, add to that the “feeling of not being listened to” over the din of a noisy minority, while your kid is unnecessarily put at risk. This is not, as Murphy claims, the best tool for keeping our schools open and safe.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

published this page in News and Politics 2021-09-03 03:02:27 -0700