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Advocates of full return to in person learning hold webinar discussing safe return to schools

WBFO file photo

Members and supporters of the group Western New York Students First have been advocating, even suing in court, to return students fully back to school. The group held a webinar Friday morning to discuss the research behind three feet versus six feet spacing in schools. At the meeting, Brown University Professor Emily Oster spoke about her findings over the past year.

“We had some data from Massachusetts, with a different team that had collected information on mitigation. We merged that in and we were able to make just really simple graphs that said, 'Hey, some district shows the distance at three feet, some shows the distance at six feet, did that make a difference for COVID rates in reported schools? It did not," Oster said.


"I think a lot of the next questions that people have are things like, Okay, well, how much distance do you need? Can we open at sort of for density? How should we think about masking in the fall? How should we think about the role of vaccines?”


Oster added there are many other areas of the country where schools have been open almost the entire year.


“And not just places in red states," oster said. "I live in Rhode Island, and a good share of the public schools here have been open five days a week, full in person for especially younger kids since September. And so that's even more true in a place like in Texas or Florida or North Dakota.”


Joseph Allen, who is a Harvard University Professor at the Chan School of Public Health and has written a few op-eds for the Washington Post, also spoke. He said health organizations know a lot more about safety now than they did 15 months ago.


“We know the hazard. And we know how to protect people inside buildings," Allen said. "Be it an office building, a school, in an airplane, on a bus or on a train, you name it, the same fundamental principles apply.” 


Allen said it's not a resource issue at this point.  

"As we're moving into this conversation, the playbooks are changing and rightly so. And that's thanks to the vaccines. So the vaccines are changing everything in a great way in the United States,” Allen said.


The Erie County Health Department says it was not invited to the meeting and told WBFO, "From our thousands of case investigations involving school staff and students, student-student or staff-student COVID-19 transmission is most likely when NYS guidance for masking or for distance is breeched. Erie County Department of Health is working aggressively with local schools and pediatricians to vaccinate 12 to 18 year olds."


County health officials urge anyone with questions to visit here.



Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.