My fellow Americans:
As April 2020 draws to a close, it has been a month since nearly every school in the country closed its doors and sent students home for the remainder of the school year. Students have been hurt by this action. They have fallen behind in their studies and many have suffered emotional trauma. Still, the actions were necessary in order to protect the health of students, faculty and staff.
This cannot continue into the next school year. If losing two months of in-person education is detrimental to students, think about what losing an entire school year would mean. Not opening schools this fall is simply not acceptable to me and it should not be acceptable to any American, regardless of party affiliation. We must all commit to do what is necessary to ensure that schools reopen in the fall.
But we can’t reopen schools if it is not safe to do so. Subjecting students and teachers to a disease that we do not yet fully understand, but that has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, is also not acceptable. So we have four months to do the things that need to be done to reopen schools safely.
First and foremost, we have to mitigate the outbreak of COVID-19 now, before it becomes unmanageable and overruns our health-care system’s ability to treat patients. In the coming days, the world’s leading experts on immunology from the CDC and the NIH will develop guidelines that are likely to include social distancing, the wearing of masks, temporary closures of certain businesses, and even stay-at-home orders.
Where it is possible to mandate these guidelines at the federal level, I will do so. Where it is not possible to do something at the federal level, I will encourage the governors to institute mandates at the state level. These guidelines will be developed by health professionals, who will be insulated from politics as they chart the appropriate course of action.
A task force will determine how to assess whether it is safe to open schools this fall. We recognize that the health risk of reopening a school is not going to be zero. The health risk has never been zero, even before the current pandemic. There has always been a risk that kids would contract a disease in school, or even be hit by a car on their way there. But we have mitigated those risks, by requiring vaccines, by prohibiting unwell students from attending school, by hiring crossing guards, and by enacting school zone speed limits. We will do the same now to ensure that we reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to the lowest practical level.
The coming months are going to be difficult. Life will not be the same. But the only way back to in-person education, or any other semblance of normalcy in our lives, is through the collective action of the American people. As doctors search for a vaccine and effective treatments, we all must do our part to limit the transmission of this disease. The restrictions we will face, while inconvenient, are nothing compared to the effects of an unchecked virus circulating among us.
So please, do your part — for your sake and the sake of your children — and follow all the guidelines provided by federal, state and local officials. If you do not, I fear that by the end of July, we will be mourning the loss of as many as 150,000 Americans, and we will conclude that there is no safe path to in-person instruction in 2020-21.
Thank you. And God bless the United States of America.
is a resident of River Forest.