Response to Fresno City Councilmembers' News Conference on Schools Reopening

Aerial photo of Valley Children's Hospital

The following is a statement from Valley Children’s President & CEO Todd Suntrapak:

This morning, two Fresno City Councilmembers, joined by other elected and community leaders, held a news conference demanding that schools reopen.

Valley Children’s has received many calls asking for comments on the media event. We offer the following perspectives.

Every judgment we make rests on a single disturbing reality that we cannot escape –  and that is Fresno County has been determined to be an area with “high levels of COVID-19 community spread” – a fact that we cannot ignore and which responsibly must drive every health decision we reach. Fresno County, along with six other Valley counties, are on the State watch list – singled out as unsafe for our communities’ 170,000 kids and 25,000 adult teachers and staff to return to school. 

It is in this context that Fresno County’s Public Health Officer determined, based on science, medicine and data, that it is unsafe for our schools to open. Reliance on these data and the recommendation of medical experts is critical, and in regard to COVID-19 and children, there could not be more clarity.

Children are at real risk from COVID-19. They get the virus. They transmit the virus. They can become very ill from COVID-19. And the long-term health consequences of a child having COVID-19 are concerning to medical experts and will remain unknown until they are older. Risking a child’s health today for an unknown health future is a risk we, as pediatric health experts, are unwilling to assume.

  • From a recent study of 59,073 contacts from 5,706 COVID-19 cases in South Korea released on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the data demonstrates that the transmission rates for COVID-19 positive children is 5.3% (children ages 0-9) and 18.6% (children ages 10-19).
  • As of July 27, 2020, we have tested 8,041 children at Valley Children’s, with a positivity rate of 9.6%. We have seen COVID-19 in patients as young as three weeks old and as old as 17 years.
  • As of July 29, 2020, Fresno County has reported 13,336 COVID-19 cases since the start of this pandemic and a positivity rate of 11%.
  • As of July 17, 2020, there were nearly 1,200 reported cases of COVID-19 in children between the ages of 0-17 in Fresno County.

Second, this morning’s news conference referenced the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement about kids and school reopening as support for reopening schools. That statement deserves clarification.

Valley Children’s Healthcare fully agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that, under normal circumstances, kids do better in school. They have access to great teachers, chances to be with friends, social and emotional support, nutrition, school nursing, physical activity and more.

But these are not normal circumstances.

However, this morning’s comments omitted the rest of the AAP statement that is particularly relevant to our unique circumstances in Fresno County.

A joint statement issued on July 10, 2020 by the the AAP, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA) and the School Superintendents Association (AASA), reads, in part:

“Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.

Local school leaders, public health experts, educators and parents must be at the center of decisions about how and when to reopen schools, taking into account the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and the capacities of school districts to adapt safety protocols to make in-person learning safe and feasible.

For instance, schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts. A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return to school decisions.”

That is why the “high level of community spread” in Fresno County demands that we act safely, responsibly, and with sound judgment and common sense.

Finally, on behalf of the tens of thousands of children we care for each year, we encourage our elected leaders and others in the community who - like all of us at Valley Children’s - want our kids to go back to school to invest your public platforms to encourage the behaviors that science has shown will slow the spread of the disease, reduce our transmission rates, slow hospitalizations and allow our schools and our economy to reopen:

Wear a mask.

Wash your hands.

Practice social distancing.

Avoid large gatherings.

That is what is best for our kids.

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