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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley looks at damage to West Jefferson High School earlier this month.

Recent articles in The Advocate expressed concern over state Superintendent Cade Brumley’s decision to provide an added local option to choices on managing COVID-19 quarantines in our schools. This opinion piece is not written to advocate for or against this option but to have us think about the major question.

A long-held wisdom is to begin with the end in mind. The truth is that a major unanswered question in this epidemic in our state is, “When does the epidemic end and how does it end?”

The end will not be eradication of the virus. Instead, the goal is to stop the epidemic by managing the disease. Safe and effective vaccines, considerable natural immunity, and very promising therapeutics are having an impact. This virus will likely not be the dominant force in our lives too much longer.

The Brumley option was to reconsider the benefits and risks of one of the mitigation strategies in our schools. Since each of these mitigation strategies brings with it significant disruption and unintended consequences, considering a reversal of restrictions is just as important as the initiation of restrictions. Because the natural history of viral surges is predictable, we should be dialing masks, quarantines, and social distancing up and down, depending on the viral load of the local community.

There are things we should always do: We should always encourage vaccines in adults, especially in the older, overweight, immunocompromised, or pregnant. We should continue to invest in research in new therapeutics. We should make an effort to develop an Operation Warp Speed for therapeutics. And we should make sure we don’t make the same mistake again of economic lockdowns and closure of schools for in-school learning.

No matter what happens with Brumley’s local option, we need to be preparing to roll back quarantines, social distancing, and masking mandates in schools as the viral surge continues to abate. We need to do it in a stepwise fashion as proposed by Brumley and we need to start as soon as possible, and complete it as soon as possible. If a new variant emerges, we can mask up again. But in the meantime, we need to get our schools, our economy, and our communities back on track.


physician, education activist