DOH says schools are protecting students and staff, but others want to see more mitigation

The state Health Director says she believes there is some spread within schools, but it has been minimal because of the safety practices in place.
Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 6:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii State Department of Education reported 325 cases since Saturday.

The superintendent said the number shouldn’t be alarming when you think about the 200 thousand public school students and employees across the department.

The state health director said she believes there is some spread within schools, but it has been minimal because of the safety practices in place. Some teachers and families say they don’t feel adequately protected.

“We’re starting to feel like first responders,” said Lisa Morrison, a Maui teacher and the secretary-treasurer for the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

She said she is speaking for teachers afraid to voice concerns about the lack of distancing and other safety protocols such as not being allowed to quarantine if they are vaccinated and have close contact with someone who tests positive.

“Teachers are really concerned about whether they’re going to spread it,” Morrison said.

A spokesperson for the DOE said teachers are expected to report to work if they are fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms. The teacher’s union said that is making people nervous.

“There should at least be a testing requirement, even if you’re fully vaccinated,” said Logan Okita, the vice president for the HSTA.

Parents are wondering if school is safe for their kids. One mother from Maui wanted to remain anonymous to protect her first-grader’s identity. She was told they’d had contact with someone who tested positive.

“What makes me really nervous was that there was really no social distancing,” she said. “They sit literally next to each other.”

A grandmother, also from Maui and also wanting anonymity, had more concerns.

“I asked her about how they are during lunch,” she said. “They all sit together, they wear no mask.”

But the health director insists that schools are doing a good job keeping people safe.

“As far as schools go, we expected to see some cases just because we’re bringing 200,000 people together,” said Dr. Libby Char. “As far as I know, the schools are actually doing really well.”

“Although ideally, we’d want no cases, it’s important to commend our schools for working diligently to minimize exposure and prevent the spread of COVID by enforcing the core essential strategies, including promoting vaccinations for all who are eligible,” said interim superintendent Keith Hayashi in a statement.

The union says it wants to work with the administration because a teacher shortage, lack of distance learning options, and growing community spread would mean even more challenges ahead.

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