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Lurching, tiptoeing — haltingly, cautiously — toward the start of a new school year

Andrew Allen wipes down a hallway doorway. Custodians are cleaning the Mildred Avenue K-8 School building in Mattapan and doing other preparations for the reopening of school.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Academics urging schools to reopen will themselves be teaching remotely

It was with great interest that I read the July 20 op-ed ”Listen to the science and reopen” by Harvard School of Public Health professors Benjamin Sommers, Joseph Allen, Sara Bleich, and Jessica Cohen. Then I was curious how Harvard’s School of Public Health will be teaching this fall. I was dismayed to discover the following on the school’s website: “We have made the decision to hold courses online during the fall semester. . . . What is clear is that the safety of the Harvard Chan School community is paramount, that we cannot ensure a safe return to in-person instruction in a way that would facilitate learning.”


This was announced at the start of June.

It does a great disservice to school planning across the state and region — and to the safety of our children and communities — not to have mentioned that the Harvard professors urging schools to reopen this fall with in-person education will themselves be teaching remotely. The Harvard School of Public Health, with budgets exceeding our public schools, feels that it cannot make in-person teaching safe, but professors there think public schools of our Commonwealth can?

Harvard and the Globe are world authorities and hugely influential when they urge schools to reopen. I hope that both institutions will explain the major discrepancies between the argument the authors put forward in the commentary and what the authors’ own school is actually doing. I hope this will be done with urgency, since schools are making plans right now for the fall, and the commentary in “Listen to the science and reopen” may already be significantly affecting these plans.

Greg Cook


The science is evolving — pay attention

I have a question for the authors of the op-ed “Listen to the science and reopen”: Have they seen the recent study of nearly 65,000 people in South Korea, which finds young people age 10 to 19 are as likely to transmit COVID-19 as adults?


I ask because the studies they cite to demonstrate kids’ low transmission rates are outdated — two published in April, the most recent on May 28 — and the sample sizes are remarkably small: three children and three adults in Ireland, 13 people in the French Alps, and 18 students and teachers in Australia.

The science has moved on, but these professors apparently have not. Listening to science, as they urge, demands that we update our mental frameworks in light of new information. Their caution about “one of the highest risks — having large numbers of adults in indoor spaces” must now read, “large numbers of people over age 10.”

Even if K-4 may resume some in-person school this fall, the imperative to avoid new superspreader events requires grades 5 and up to remain at home.

Roselyn A. Farren


The writer is an English teacher at Plymouth North High School.

Science is not something one ‘listens’ to

With all due respect to my Harvard colleagues who wrote “Listen to the science and reopen,” I think they selected the wrong verb. It should be “read the science.”

In my experience, “science” does not talk; it is scientists who talk. And the authors probably should have said, “critically read the science.” Science is written, and the quality of studies, data, and logic can vary widely, as my colleagues know. Moving from scientific studies to policy decisions requires interpretation, especially when uncertainty arises, as frequently occurs in science and in life.


I don’t disagree with the conclusions they reached. Scientific studies should be used to reduce the risk of transmission both inside and outside schools. In effect, they advocate reading, interpreting, and using science as the basis for conditional reopening of schools. This makes sense. But this is not simple listening to the science; it is listening to them.

Michael R. Reich

Jamaica Plain

The author is a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Libraries — classrooms, in other words

It is interesting to me that in their op-ed, the authors suggest, “Districts should consider adding tents and trailers and converting gyms, cafeteria, and libraries to expand learning spaces.” How is it that the four Harvard authors don’t realize that libraries already are learning spaces?

Alice F. Stern

West Roxbury

Key metric to follow: morbidity and mortality

The three op-eds in Monday’s Globe (”The plan to reopen Mass. schools compromises too much and provides too little,” “Doing our homework to get kids back to class,” “Listen to the science and reopen”) all missed a key metric, and that is: What increase in morbidity and mortality is acceptable? Once that is defined, then it can be monitored and used to determine whether a school district needs to alter procedures or return to remote learning.

Richard Fink


With three generations under one roof, fall looms large

My wife and I are in our late 70s and in good health for our age.


Our daughter’s family lives with us. She and her spouse are regional vocational technical high school teachers, and their two children will be attending middle and elementary school. We have been carefully self-isolating since March. I’m trying to figure out a way we can safely live together should school reopen in the fall. Suddenly each of the four school-going members of our six-member household will be exposed to dozens of new people daily. It’s likely one of them will be exposed.

I asked our town’s board of health professional for advice on what to do. She said that was a challenging question to answer, since my wife and I would be living with our daughter and her family for a prolonged period. She attached the heavily detailed guidance sheet the board of health would give to someone who had been exposed to COVID-19 and was being asked to quarantine, and said it could help me think about ways to reduce exposure to a family member who might be COVID-positive.

Wearing an N95 mask day in and day out will be tough for all of us. Worrying about running the house’s heating system, keeping the kitchen sterile, avoiding being in the same room for any period of time — it all sounds very difficult.

Last spring, with remote learning and teaching, our prospects for survival and decent familial living in our six-room home were OK, and we got along well and stayed in good spirits. This fall sounds like it will be a much more perilous situation.


Mark Hanson


Pediatrician can foresee problems with testing process

I was pleased to see coverage of the new guidelines published by the Commonwealth for school reopenings (”A daunting test for schools to deal with the sick,” Page A1, July 22), and I read the 19-page document carefully.

By the fall, in so-called normal times, my pediatric practice becomes very busy with children who have fever, cough, sore throat, etc., typically caused by numerous minor viruses or by bacterial illnesses such as strep throat. Many times parents are called by the school because the child first complains of or develops a fever during the school day.

The new guidelines mandate that each one of these children have testing for COVID-19. While there are a number of test sites in the general vicinity of our offices, many, if not most, require a consultation with their staff, often at significant cost, even if the child had been evaluated by a member of my practice.

Our office also obtains specimens from patients, and those are sent to a commercial lab for testing. Right now the results often take a week or more to become available.

While I am hoping that we can get the children back in the classroom, this really is not workable until and unless there are more testing sites and tests with rapid results available.

Dr. Robert E. Braitman