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(CNN)Nearly 1.5 million teachers are at higher risk of serious illness if they contract coronavirus, according to an analysis released Friday evening.
These teachers and instructors, about 24% of the total, suffer from health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity, or are older than age 65, which make them more vulnerable, the Kaiser Family Foundation report found.
The share of teachers at high risk based on criteria identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the same as for workers overall, Kaiser said. Schools face the challenge of high traffic and tight quarters, which could make social distancing difficult.
The analysis comes as the nation is engulfed in a debate over whether it’s safe to bring children back into the classroom this fall. President Donald Trump ramped up the pressure this week on state officials to reopen schools in the fall, threatening to withhold federal funding.
But many teachers and parents remain concerned about being able to keep children and their instructors safe, especially as the number of cases surges across the nation and more than two dozen states have halted or started to roll back their reopening plans.
Local school leaders, public health experts, educators and parents should be involved in the decision to open schools, and they must take into account factors including community spread of Covid-19 and the ability of schools to institute safety protocols, according to a joint statement released Friday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff,” the groups said.
“For instance, schools in areas with high levels of Covid-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts,” the statement continued. “A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return to school decisions.”
But others are worried about continuing distance learning, citing the toll it takes on children’s education and parents’ ability to return to their jobs. They have pointed to the fact that that kids are less likely to suffer serious illness from coronavirus.
When asked about the increased risks that come with opening schools, South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday, “Our plan is to have the schools open and a lot of discussion’s going on about that right now.”
“We need to get ’em back in,” he said of the students. “People have to go to work. Parents have to go to work. Teachers want to go to work. Everybody wants to get the schools started. But we have to be sure that we’re doing so safely.”