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Michigan physicians ask lawmakers to consider science in back-to-school legislation

Children in the hallway of a school
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Physicians throughout the state are asking lawmakers to consider science and research when making decisions about how to proceed with education this fall. 

The Michigan state senate is expected to meet this Saturday to discuss a package of four education bills. House Bills 5910, 5911, 5912, and 5913 were approved by the state house of representatives in July. 


HB 5912 says that school districts must offer an in-person learning option this fall. This means that school districts like Lansing and Ann Arbor, both of which have opted to go entirely online, could risk losing funding if the bill becomes law.

It is unlikely that Governor Gretchen Whitmer will sign the bills into law.

Dr. Farhan Bhatti is a family physician and a member of the Lansing school board. He's also the Michigan State Lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare. Dr. Bhatti says children are not immune to COVID-19.

“Science is warning us that indoor venues, such as schools with reduced ventilation, active children, and a significant number of adults with high-risk medical conditions will require stringent safety measures to reduce the risk of infections and transmission.”

Dr. Harshini Jayasuriya is a family physician in Holt, Michigan. She says research on kids and COVID-19 is still in its early stages, but show that we need to that we need to take the possibility of kids getting sick seriously.

“Recent studies indicate that children can transmit the coronavirus as much as adults, and their viral roads can be high. Like some other states, Michigan is seeing COVID-19 surges among teens, and at least one outbreak in a camp for children.” 

She emphasizes that children are not immune to COVID-19, saying, “Though their symptoms may be milder than in adults, they can get very sick. COVID-19 is linked to a condition in children called multi-system inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, where the organs become inflamed.”

Dr. Bhatti says the potential for budget cuts based on whether a school district offers in-person learning is especially upsetting. 

“It would have a devastating impact on the services that we could provide to our kids, the educational opportunities. There would probably be the high possibility of layoffs of staff.”

Dr. Bhatti acknowledges that a one-size fits all approach would not work for many families. He says there will need to be cooperation at every level of government to help school districts and working families.

“Here in Lansing, one of the things that I proposed was for households where both parents are working, we open up some of our computer labs in some of our school buildings and allow those kids of those families to come in and attend their online classes in a computer lab in a school building. We would obviously have those kids be supervised and safely socially distanced, but that’s a creative thing we can do to help working families keep their jobs.”

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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