Schools Should Not Reopen in States Seeing This, Doctor Cautions

Former FDA Commissioner says this metric should guide state officials on how to proceed.

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Nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic and, in many ways, not a lot has changed since the country first went into lockdown back in March. Sure, certain businesses have reopened and the epicenters of the pandemic have shifted in the U.S., but things are as far from "normal" as they've been since the onset of the outbreak. And as the many uncertainties about what the future holds for the economy and the culture in the U.S. remain, the virus itself continues to infect at a rapid rate. It is that fact that has made determining whether or not it's safe to reopen schools next month a difficult task for state officials. And while the issue is at the center of a highly contested debate in regards to how we move forward in the face of the ongoing pandemic, as far as one expert is concerned, the decision to reopen schools should be based largely on one crucial metric: the positive test rate in each state.

Appearing on Sunday's edition of CBS's Face the Nation, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, MD, was asked to identify the rate of positive COVID-19 tests in a particular area that would present an issue for schools trying to reopen. "I think somewhere in five to 10 [percent] it's starting to get iffy," Gottlieb said on the July 26 airing of the show. "Above 10 [percent] I think that's a threshold where you really want to think carefully about closing the school districts, because that is a sign that there is an epidemic underway inside that community."

Black girl on school campus wearing a mask for coronavirus protection.
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Gottlieb expanded on the subject, telling the show's moderator Margaret Brennan that testing itself had to be improved and streamlined significantly before schools can reopen safely. "I think one of the things you need to look at in a local community is whether or not you can get test results, because if you can't get test results back in a timely fashion, you really don't have a way to detect whether there is an outbreak in the community or in the school," Gottlieb said. "And while we do need to lean forward and try to open our schools because it's important to children, we need to prevent outbreaks from happening in the schools. We can't just let the infection run rampant inside the schools. And having good testing in place is going to be a critical tool."

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While Gottlieb named testing company LabCorp as an example of being caught up from its backlog of tests, claiming they will now be able to return results within two or three days, there is clearly a problem with the overall system. Many people still aren't seeing their lab results for two weeks or even longer. And for those looking to find out if their local schools are opening in the weeks ahead, they'll have to do the same thing: wait. And for more on the development of a coronavirus immunity shot, check out We Are This Close to a Vaccine, According to Doctor Leading the Search.

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