TAMPA, Fla. — Teachers and students across the Tampa Bay Area have been back in the classroom for weeks. Public health experts call one study a wake-up call in many ways, all as the public continues to navigate school reopenings and the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re definitely here because we want to be, and it’s in our heart,” said Lake Gibson Senior High School teacher Robyn Silva.
Silva had the difficult decision on how to return to the classroom. After weeks back at school with her students, she says things are going well.
“It’s gone a lot better than I kind of thought it was going to,” said Silva. “The kids have been following the rules a lot better than I assumed.”
Still, she knows the risk is keeping many teachers at home. Using pre-pandemic household data, a study by researchers with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality looked at how often people at risk of severe COVID-19 cases were connected to schools, whether as a school employee or by living with an employee or school-age children.
The results? The study states, “between 42.0 and 51.4 percent of all school employees met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) definition for having increased risk or potentially having increased risk of severe COVID-19.”
“It’s a reality check,” said USF Health’s Dr. Jay Wolfson. “It’s a reality just, not just about COVID, but about the health status of people in our communities.”
Researchers used factors like obesity, age, and conditions like diabetes and cancer to classify people at an increased risk. The study also found that, “among all adults with CDC risk factors for severe COVID-19, between 33.9 million and 44.2 million had direct or within-household connections to schools.”
“If our population as a whole has been experiencing and acquiring those risk factors that just happen to be linked to COVID risk, it’s kind of good to know,” said Dr. Wolfson. “It’s another wake-up call for our population. Folks we’re going to have to get healthy.”
In school, Silva says she’s seen face masks being enforced, symptom checks taken seriously, and classrooms getting cleaned. She reminds people that teachers are doing their best under stressful circumstances during this pandemic.
“We’re all here because we really want to be here. Even if we’re not here in the building and we’re at home and we’re teaching, we’re doing it because no one goes into teaching for anything other than to teach,” said Silva. “We’re putting our full heart and soul into it.”