Education, health leaders discussed COVID-19 challenges in Pacific-sponsored webinar
The importance of the San Joaquin County education and health care sectors working together to thwart a rise in COVID-19 cases was highlighted in a July 31 webinar sponsored by University of the Pacific’s Beyond Our Gates program.
The webinar was held the Friday before most local K-12 school districts opened the 2020–21 school year with mandated distance learning.
Health care representatives on the panel were San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park and Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice President for the Central Valley Corwin Harper. San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas and Stockton Unified School District Interim Superintendent Brian Biedermann represented local education.
The discussion was moderated by Pacific’s Community Relations Director Mike Klocke.
“This is a very interesting time for our community and our society because this is ultimately a case study in human behavior,” said Harper, who is a Pacific regent. “And I think our educators are great and will position us to think through how we understand human behavior in the face of a pandemic … Because, at the end of the day, this is a massive infection prevention opportunity for us all. The question is what can we do? And the answer is always three things: wear a mask, wash your hands and socially distance.”
Park is charged with making decisions about closing and reopening of segments of the community, including education. After 4,000-plus COVID-19 positive cases from January through June, there were more than 7,000 positive cases in July alone in San Joaquin County. The number of deaths also spiked.
“In all honesty, I do not see schools returning to in-school instruction any time this fall,” Park said. “We are on the state’s county monitoring list and of the five metrics that are monitored, we are failing three of them. Hopefully, if everyone will work together, we might be able to return in the spring.”
Biedermann and Mousalimas expressed confidence that distance learning and instruction have evolved from the emergency approach of March through May, when all San Joaquin County campuses were closed.
“We were expecting to be able to have students return to the classroom this fall, but things changed dramatically,” Mousalimas said. “We are committed to providing rigorous and effective distance learning, with expectations for all involved. I have confidence in our educators to make that happen.”
Biedermann 04 EDU said he consults data and “trusts the guidance of Dr. Park” in deciding when it is safe to return to in-class learning. “I expect we will go to a hybrid structure combining in-class and distance learning before going back full time,” he said. “We do not want to rush back.”
Harper closed the webinar by imploring citizens to take the pandemic seriously.
“My four closing points are as follows: wear a mask and wash your hands,” Harper said while pulling on a mask and using hand sanitizer for the Zoom audience of approximately 100. “And socially distance... I challenge us to do that for 28 days and see what will happen.
“My last point is please do something innovative for the education community so they can help the essential workers who are stressed when coming to work. Let’s make sure that our children are educated to be the future doctors, future nurses, future lab techs and future health care providers that we need as a community.”