UNMC doc: 'Lots of people are going to die unnecessarily' if schools don't change COVID protocols

Dr. James Lawler is a leading infectious disease physician
Posted at 2:56 PM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 21:41:49-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A classroom in the Millard Public Schools district has been closed due to an outbreak of the coronavirus at Montclair Elementary. An infectious disease expert from UNMC says that we're likely to see more of these closures and possibly worse, if schools don't change their approach to masking and social distancing

RELATED: Masks to remain optional at Millard Public Schools

“We know we have to anticipate cases of COVID-19 in our schools,” the district said in a news release. “We are working diligently to mitigate spread, and when we must take steps as we have done today, we will work with families to continue their child's education.”

The district says remote learning will be offered while the classroom is fully closed.

“After this time, the class will reopen and students not in attendance will still be provided their education through elementary asynchronous remote learning,” the district said. “We will make sure they have the lessons and support to continue their education, it will just not occur in real-time. This is exactly what we do with any child that is sick or absent for any reason.”

Millard Public Schools COVID-19 cases Aug. 18
Millard Public Schools confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Aug. 18

Millard is not the only school district that has reported confirmed COVID-19 cases. Seven of the 12 districts that have begun classes have at least one confirmed case.

Papillion La Vista Community Schools began classes Thursday, August 12 and have 10 positive cases across seven different schools. Westside Community Schools has reported seven COVID cases and its first day was Tuesday, August 17. Bellevue has five, Elkhorn has four, Ralston has two and Gretna has one.

Doctors say they're concerned, but add these outbreaks are expected.

"We know that respiratory viruses transmit exceptionally well in that environment and you can not expect a full classroom of kids, who are not vaccinated and not wearing masks, not to have these types of huge outbreaks," said Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease physician with Nebraska Medicine.

Many of these districts have little to no mask requirements, but board members have said they have consulted local health officials in creating back-to-school plans. Lawler says universal masking in schools is necessary.

Districts have said they will continue to monitor the situation and make changes to their protocols when necessary. Dr. Lawler says we already passed that point and that it's just going to get worse in the coming weeks.

"We’re not running around with a surplus of ICU beds normally and so that capacity is going to be overwhelmed quickly and you're going to be getting treatment, or your loved ones are going to be getting their treatment, in a tent and that’s probably not good care right there," Lawler said.

READ MORE: 13 doctors, all moms, say masks will help keep schools open for their kids and yours

He says it's very likely, if we don't change course soon and implement layered interventions like masking and distancing, Nebraska will see similar situations to states where cases have risen rampantly.

"That will be catastrophic. Lots of people are going to die unnecessarily and everybody is going to suffer and it doesn’t have to be that way," Lawler said.


In a news release on Wednesday, the Millard Public Schools said:

As of yesterday, we had one positive case in a classroom at Montclair Elementary. A letter was sent Monday evening to close contacts of that case and another courtesy letter was sent to the class. Late yesterday afternoon, we received word of two more positive cases. When we receive word of three cases in the same classroom, we contact the Douglas County Health Department for guidance.

During this time we learned of two additional possible cases in that same classroom. While we worked with DCHD, we also went out to the families in that class to let them know of the three confirmed cases, the two possible cases and asked them not to come to school today.

Today one of those cases has been confirmed. The four currently active cases are reflected on our district website: We update this data once daily throughout the weekdays, usually by noon. This morning we reached back out to these families with additional guidance from Douglas County Health. The classroom is closed to mitigate spread.

The district says families should monitor their children for symptoms consistent with coronavirus until:

  • If the child is tested on day 5 (August 22, 2021) and is negative, they can return to school on day 8 (August 25, 2021).
  • If the child is not tested, they can return to school after day 10 (August 30, 2021).
  • The child should wear a mask for the remainder of the 14 day incubation period (August 31, 2021).

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