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WNY Students First wants health commissioner fired for not fully reopening schools

Erie County Department of Health
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Bursetin makes an online presentation to community health workers last week.

The vocal parent group Western New York Students First wants Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein fired by the county executive for not allowing wide reopening of schools.The county Health Department said there are a lot of COVID-infected kids in schools, like 642 reported cases last week and 86 Sunday and Monday. And the numbers are rising.

The group’s leaders said kids are being infected outside of the classroom and they could return under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The kids are catching these in sports and in everything else that is open in the community," said Students First leader Tarja Parssinen. "And so, what prioritizes football over your math class? And the good news is, with the kids that are catching COVID, is that the risk to them, the severe health risks are very, very, very low and that when they properly wear masks at school, that transmission stops."

Williamsville parent Jonathan Rich said the long period away from class, friends and teachers in front of the room is affecting student mental health. Williamsville Central Schools reported three new student COVID cases Monday.

"Williamsville, we have about 9,000 students and over 1,000 support staff. Total, between those two groups, we have had less than 300 cases reported in the schools this year," said Rich. "So you’re talking about an incredibly small percentage of infection happening in the schools. What we are not saying is the schools should be open, no matter what."

There was no response from the county executive’s office to the demand to fire the health commissioner.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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