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Principal Pam Rasmussen (L) takes the temperature of arriving students as per coronavirus guidelines during summer school sessions in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

As the fall semester quickly approaches for a number of school districts across the US, lawmakers, school boards members, and parents have been debating whether or not schools should reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Matt Lambert, an emergency medicine physician and former chief medical information officer for New York City Health and Hospitals, told Business Insider that schools could reopen with strict health safety precautions, but the prevalence of the virus could challenge if they are able to stay open.

Lambert said it could be difficult identifying and separating potential coronavirus cases and flu cases due to the similarity between symptoms and increased exposure to others.

“When the flu comes back around October, it’s going to create some challenges intermingling with the coronavirus, because patients don’t come in saying, ‘I have the coronavirus or I have the flu’ — they come in saying, ‘I have a fever, a cough or shortness of breath,'” he said.

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Reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has been a point of contention among lawmakers, school boards, and parents and students alike.

Citing the “confluence” of the flu season and increased exposure, one doctor with experience in advising city officials on public health said schools can either taking strict health safety precautions or expect to shut the school down again by the end of October if they reopen.

Matt Lambert, an emergency medicine physician and the former chief medical information officer for New York City Health and Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health system, told Business Insider that he is “all for very thoughtful attempts at reopening schools.”

But so far, he said he thinks “we haven’t had a lot of guidance at the federal level on any of this, specifically around schools.”

Essie McGuire, center, Associate Superintendent/Operations for Montgomery county schools, points out a desk with signage to keep it 6 feet from any other desks as she conducts a reporters tour of College Gardens elementary to show room arrangements, sanitizing stations, and other measures that the system hopes will prevent the spread of the coronavirus when school reopens in August in Rockville, MD on July 09.

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“For local schools, if they want to try and open up using some really practical techniques around mask-wearing and distancing and maybe even rotations of when students come, I think that is something worthwhile to try,” Lambert said, adding, “But the virus is more prevalent now than it has been at any other time.”

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“If we move to open up schools, even with the best models we can think of, passing the virus is going to be inevitable,” he continued. “Kids can contract the virus; kids can transmit the virus. There might be some varying levels of what it’s like in kids compared to adults, but it is clear that they can do that.”

Lambert said, given the transmission of the virus, it would be “inevitable” for an infected student to pass on the coronavirus “to either a chronically ill teacher or an elderly loved one at home who may have a bad outcome from this.”

As the fall semester quickly approaches for a number of school districts — and has started for others — across the US, Chicago officials announced Wednesday that the Chicago public school system — the third largest in the country — would begin with online-only classes.

“We are in a better place than most places in the county and the surrounding area, but we are seeing an increase of cases,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a press conference Wednesday.

The decision to keep CPS students online leaves the New York City public school system as one of the last large school districts in the US to announce whether or not they will allow students to attend in-person classes in the fall.

More than 250 employees in Gwinnett County School District in Georgia — the state’s largest school district —either tested positive for the coronavirus or had been exposed to it while doing pre-planning for in-person learning for the upcoming semester.

A Granite School District teacher joins others gathered at the district’s office Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Salt Lake City, to protest the district’s plans for reopening.

Rick Bowmer/AP

At another school in Georgia, after the school year began on August 3, photos of maskless students crammed into a hallway went viral, exemplifying the difficulties of properly reopening a school amid an unprecedented pandemic.

The US still doesn’t have much of a grasp on a proper testing and contact tracing infrastructure, and Lambert sees a challenge in identifying and separating potential coronavirus cases and flu cases due to the similarity between symptoms and increased exposure to other people who may be infected.

“When the flu comes back around October, it’s going to create some challenges intermingling with the coronavirus, because patients don’t come in saying, ‘I have the coronavirus or I have the flu’ — they come in saying, ‘I have a fever, a cough or shortness of breath,'” Lambert said.

He added: “The virus would be increasing during that time of the viral season in this country, so I think that it’s the confluence of increased exposure at schools and the return of times that we typically see the viruses” that would make it difficult for schools to reopen properly.

“I think it’s reasonable for a local school system to try to put together a good plan on mask-wearing and social distancing and to try and go back to school,” Lambert continued. “But for most of them, I think we’ll find that that’s going to be something that’s not going to work out.”

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