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Dear Decaturish – I strongly oppose the planned reopening of Decatur schools on Jan. 19

Decatur Editor's Pick

Dear Decaturish – I strongly oppose the planned reopening of Decatur schools on Jan. 19

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Empty playground at Talley Street Upper Elementary School on October 21, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.


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Dear Decaturish,

As a physician serving on the front lines of this pandemic at one of the largest safety net hospitals in Atlanta, a Scientist with a Masters in Public Health, a Mom of three school aged children in the City Schools of Decatur (CSD) and a community member who was on the CSD school reopening mitigation subcommittee, I strongly oppose the planned reopening of schools on Jan. 19 without any consideration of relevant metrics. I am concerned that our current level of unprecedented spread will nullify previous research findings on school based spread, which CSD is utilizing to justify re-opening, and will also alter what constitutes effective mitigation strategies.  I sincerely hope that this is another time when CSD will reverse course, as they have in the past, and do what’s best for the community at large and remain virtual.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20.  Had the current intended measures for school reopening been in place in August, many of our elementary children could have been in school safely for the first semester.  That ship has sailed, and we are no longer in the environment that we would have been in this summer.  Community spread is unprecedented and will only worsen given the many Holiday family gatherings and New Years Celebrations.

It is irresponsible to have teachers return to the school building in January given the community spread and the lack of healthcare access that our community will face. When I speak of “our community”, I am truly speaking of ALL of us.  Access will be limited for everyone, uninsured/insured, white/black as the hospitals and ICU beds fill up. There is a high likelihood that with limited resources, ventilators and staffing, that the quality of care that you will receive during this current surge will be suboptimal.

Dr. Dude and the School Board have a dual responsibility to protect their staff and to educate the children in this district.  At this point in the pandemic, both can only be done virtually.  Below is a graph showing the current statewide numbers for COVID-19 hospitalizations.  As of Dec. 28, there are 4435 hospitalizations statewide from COVID-19 and 1586 hospitalizations regional from COVID-19 and those numbers are increasing daily.  This means that daily more people will continue to get sick, daily people will continue to die and not even our most well insured Decatur families will be guaranteed that they will receive the care needed for strokes, heart attacks, appendicitis, pneumonia, car accidents, etc…because the hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients.  Daily we are setting new records.  They are opening the Georgia Congress World  Center (GCWC) for overflow COVID-19 patient care this week.  This is not where we want our family members, our teachers and our children’s parents to go when they get ill.

Please do not let CSD be the school district that decided to go back face to face in the midst of a pandemic when we are facing unprecedented numbers and experiencing a surge on top of a surge.  The Superintendent and School Board members were hired and elected to lead.  Leadership is not easy and there will be upset parents who threaten (or will leave the district) if CSD doesn’t open on Jan. 19.  We should wish those families well on their journey as we continue to do the right thing by the families that are committed to the community and will be remaining in CSD. There will also be many thankful parents and teachers who understand that this is one of the many sacrifices being made by us all.  SD Leadership should not be afraid to do what’s right.  They literally have the lives of the teachers and families in their hands. CSD should not heed the advice of families who are simply desperate for normal, no matter the cost.  We are in the midst of a Pandemic. There is nothing normal about this. Educational deficits can be remediated, death can not.

I continue to wait for CSD to be innovator that I know they can be, creating outdoor classrooms, changing all grades to Pass/Fail, creating a tiered return to school (in the Spring) that utilizes metrics and is needs based utilizing an equity lens, providing optional summer school to the entire community to help remediate the “educational deficits” that our children may have and the audacity, the boldness, to LEAD and reshape this conversation of what it means to live through a pandemic.

I encourage parents to continue to reach out to Dr. Dude at [email protected] and the School Board [email protected] to ensure that their voices are being heard and to ensure that our community ALL makes it through this pandemic together.


Michelle (Kanika) Sims, MD, MPH

Here is some additional information provided by the author … 

Below are the statewide numbers for COVID-19 hospitalizations as of 12/28/20.

Statewide hospitalizations are at 4435, today. +235 from yesterday.

Regional hospitalizations are at 1586 today. +100 from yesterday.

*Highest regional hospitalizations occurred on 12/28 with 1586.

*Highest statewide hospitalizations occurred on 12/28 with 4435.

87% of ICU beds are in use, statewide.

85% of ICU beds are in use, regionally.

These ICU percentages are not reflective of actual availability

Facility Positives PUIs
CHOA – combined 12 38
Eastside 56 0
Emory Decatur 55 24
Emory Hillandale 24 6
Emory Johns Creek 40 4
Emory St Joe 91 8
Emory Univ Hosp 77 8
Emory Midtown 75 6
Grady Health System 115 7
Northside Atl 119 6
Northside Duluth 33 0
Northside Forsyth 91 1
Northside Gwinnett 161 1
Piedmont Atl 94 2
Piedmont Fayette 88 7
Piedmont Newton 34 0
Piedmont Rockdale 48 0
Southern Regional 28 9
Wellstar Atl 31 6
Wellstar AMC South 33 5
Wellstar Cobb 80 14
Wellstar Kennestone 162 29
Wellstar North Fulton 39 3
Total 1586 184
NGMC Gainesville 177 29

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