PERMAR: Open letter to the WCPSS School Board

COURTESY PHOTO Dr. Sallie Permar is pictured in this undated file photo.

Dear Wake County Public School System School Board,
I am a pediatric infectious disease physician, virologist, immunologist, vaccinologist, and parent, previously at Duke and now the Department Chair of Pediatrics and Pediatrician-in-Chief at Weill Cornell Med School/New York-Presbyterian. I have a child who remains in Wake County schools until the end of this school year, and I am writing to speak out for the children under your care.
My new role has given me a new vantage point of the crisis that has been created by keeping schools closed – a tidal wave of children requiring hospitalization for mental health crises that fill our ERs because the inpatient units are full, an obesity epidemic unrestrained, children with pre-existing conditions who have lost fitness and strength and worsened their disease, and child maltreatment that is not being detected until it is too late.  And that is not even addressing the education gap that has become a chasm.  We are creating an unhealthy and undereducated generation out of fears for that are now largely invalidated by data – infection control strategies can prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in congregate settings for kids, strategies that also work for the new SARS-CoV-2 variants.
We lost precious time in the fall keeping kids almost completely virtual before the holiday surge, but during this time the data was collected that secondary transmission in group settings for children can be prevented.  This work even preceded availability of vaccines. Per the current Plan B schedule, my 4th grader will only go to school 5 days out of the next 2 months.  That is not an intervention that will reverse the trends mentioned above. Vaccines are here, and surely we are just a couple weeks away from all teachers being able to access vaccines – and I feel confident they will still protect against disease and death even with the new variants circulating.
I urge the board to put in place Plan A – before we cannot reverse this child wellbeing crisis. Moreover, mitigation measures need to be planned now (summer school) to make up for lost time.
Thank you,
Sallie Permar