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'Schools are safer than anywhere else around, shame on us as a society' | Triad infectious disease expert expresses closure frustrations

Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Health, said those who are opposed to safely reopening schools are ignoring science.

Some Triad school districts are pausing reentry or moving back to remote learning temporarily, but Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist Health, said schools are much safer than other businesses that are already open. 

During his Thursday COVID-19 update for the Triad, Ohl expressed frustration that schools could be closed for much longer if school boards listen to misinformation about coronavirus.

"We need to look at real science and the schools are safer than the Halloween party, safer than going to a brewpub and getting pizza, or having people at your house. The schools are safer than most anywhere else," Ohl said. "The bars are open, the fitness centers are open. Shame on us as a society. What's important?" 

Dr. Ohl said if you're opposed to safely reopening, you're ignoring science.

"There's a group of people that have been extremely vocal and they've developed a life of their own and a crusade against opening schools and there's a lot of misinformation."

He said schools are perhaps one of the safest places to be. 

RELATED: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools' Board of Education pauses reentry for students in grades 2 – 12 until January

"Schools are pretty much safer than anywhere else around, transmissions of the virus in the schools are basically nonexistent," he continued. "When it does happen between teachers, it happens at lunch or in the breakroom or at a social activity outside of school."

 Ohl worries that misinformation could block reentry for a long time. 

"I don't see Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools opening at all, maybe into 2022 as long as this is going on."

By 'this,' he meant the spreading and consuming of misinformation. 

WFMY News 2 reached out to the district. 

A spokesperson stated the following in an email:

I certainly can't say what would happen in or until 2022. I think there are far too many uncertainties for that and would never want to make predictions. We will always try to do what is safest for our students, our staff, and ultimately the community. 

I believe our Board wants to make sound decisions based on solid information. Our leadership team has used Dr. Ohl along with a host of other medical professionals when making recommendations to the Board and when putting plans together. He has also spoken to our Board of Education on a few occasions to offer his perspective. We value what they all have to say. We will continue using local and national medical experts as we formulate recommendations for the Board of Education and as the Board weighs decisions on re-entry. We are also a part of the ABC Science Collaborative and work with them on best practices.

Dr. Ohl later clarified he didn't mean to single out leaders who make reentry decisions, like Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School board members.

He issued the following later in the day:

“I know Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and other school systems are facing incredibly difficult decisions and they are doing the best they can. I have worked with and supported WS/FCS throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so. My comments were not directed toward the WS/FCS school system, the school board or to the majority of parents, teachers or stakeholders. I think it’s time to have a science-based and not emotional dialogue about getting our kids back in school safely. I know it’s difficult but I also know it can be done.  We really are all in this together and I know we all want the best for our children.” – Christopher Ohl, M.D., infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

WFMY News 2's Jess Winters reached out to all Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education members. 

So far, we've heard back from Dana Caudill Jones:

"I listened to Dr. Ohl today. I agree, we need to move our students safely back in the classrooms. As you know, we currently have students attending in person and will move the other grades back in the buildings in January."

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