Reopening These Is "The Equivalent of Reopening Bars," Harvard Doctor Says

Both places share similar potential problems that increase the likelihood of COVID transmission.

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Bars across the U.S. not only felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown, but they've also played a major role in the resurgence of the virus since reopening. In fact, when a group of doctors and health experts were asked to assess the risk of 36 activities recently, going to a bar or nightclub came in as the most dangerous of all. But it's not just your local watering hole that's inherently more prone to transmitting COVID-19. According to a public health expert from Harvard, a similarly risky situation can be found in the otherwise most unrelated of places. On a July 29 press call, Sarah Fortune, MD, said, "I think it's important to recognize that schools are like little bars."

Fortune, chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained that bars and schools "are places where people are congregated, and even with the best intentions it's hard to keep kids apart from one another and hard to keep them in their masks," she said in response to a question from the Houston Chronicle.

Kids in reduced size classroom
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In addition, Fortune noted that in both places there is "a lot of mixing of people that may be asymptomatic carriers." It's this fact, specifically, that makes her think that things like social distancing, wearing masks, and other personal safety measures alone won't be enough to consider schools safe to reopen for some time. "I don't think we can rely on those risk mitigation strategies alone to protect us once schools open," she said.

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But with the start of the new school year only a matter of weeks away in most parts of the country, what does this mean for parents, students, and education professionals? Will schools be able to safely open this fall? Fortune says, while everyone of course wants schools to reopen and for students to get the face-to-face education experience they'd long been accustomed to prior to a few months ago, it's not a simple decision.

However, one factor to focus on that would make doing so much safer is testing. "We need to really think about test capacity and getting testing into schools," Fortune said. "Because otherwise, I think it could be the equivalent of reopening bars in and across communities." And for more insights from Fortune, check out Here's When You're No Longer at Risk of Getting COVID, Harvard Doctor Says.

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