Story at a glance

  • Harvard Global Health Institute Director (HGHI) Ashish Jha in an opinion piece for The Boston Globe says for schools to open up safely the level of the coronavirus in the community must be low, and the school itself must be prepared.
  • Jha says schools in a red zone, where there are 25 or more cases per 100,000 people, cannot open safely. Schools in orange zones, where there are 10 to 24 cases per 100,000 people, will also struggle.
  • Jha recommends schools in those areas move to phase 1 of the White House reopening guidelines and enforce mask requirements, and then they may be able to open some time in the fall.

As the 2020-21 academic year inches closer and the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. shows little sign of slowing down, debate over whether schools should hold classes in-person has become contentious. 

President Trump has recently threatened to withhold federal funding from school districts that don’t commit to in-person learning this fall, while some educators have pushed back, arguing the risk of COVID-19 is still too high. 


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Harvard Global Health Institute Director (HGHI) Ashish Jha in an opinion piece for The Boston Globe is arguing that two specific things need to take place before schools can open up classrooms to students and teachers safely. 


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“We can open schools safely,” Jha wrote in The Boston Globe. “Doing so means meeting two sets of conditions: The level of the coronavirus in the community must be low, and the school itself must be prepared."

When it comes to coronavirus levels in the community, Jha says there is no magic number that will make reopening entirely safe, but he advised local officials to use risk-assessment tools like the COVID risk-level dashboard built by HGHI. The dashboard sorts counties by color based on their daily new cases per 100,000 people. 

Jha says schools in a red zone, where there are 25 or more cases per 100,000 people, cannot open safely. Schools in orange zones, where there are 10 to 24 cases per 100,000 people, will also struggle. 

“If districts open schools in these areas, the chances are that those schools will probably close quickly when teachers, staff, and possibly students get sick in large numbers,’ he said. 

Jha says leaders in these areas must bring the level of coronavirus “way down,” by moving to phase 1 of the White House reopening guidelines, which includes no indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and closing bars, indoor dining and retail shops. He also recommends enforcing mask mandates and ramping up testing and contact tracing. 

He said if counties put these guidelines in place it’s possible they could get back to classrooms sometime in the fall. 

When it comes to how schools must prepare, the Harvard doctor says they should use libraries, cafeterias, school auditoriums or gyms to hold classes, or even outdoor lectures. Teachers and other staff who are vulnerable should be allowed to work remotely. 

While Jha said schools mostly lack the resources and knowledge to open safely, he advised local and federal governments to help purchase updated air filter systems for schools and regularly test teachers and students.


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Published on Jul 22, 2020