People protesting the reopening of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are showing a lack of understanding about science, according to Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Ohl is among the medical experts that the district has consulted about reopening, said school spokesman Brent Campbell.
In his weekly address on COVID-19 in the region, Ohl mentioned the school board’s decision on Tuesday to delay the reopening for students in grades 2-12 until January.
About 6,000 students in specialized programs as well as pre-kindergarten through first grade, have returned to school, some as recently as Monday.
The community has been sharply divided on whether students should return.
"Quite frankly, there’s a group of people that have been extremely vocal, and they’ve developed kind of a life of their own and a crusade against opening schools," Ohl said. "There’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation and ignorance of science, quite frankly, in that group. And that will keep groups from reopening in Forsyth County unless they start thinking about it a little bit more.”
Ohl said the pressure from groups opposed to reopening will likely prevent older students from returning to school in Forsyth County in the current school year.
Ohl did not name any specific groups but he appealed to them to "look at real science."
A few hours after his address, Ohl clarified in a statement that he understands the difficult decisions that the school district is facing and that everyone is doing their best.
“My comments were not directed toward WS/FCS system, the school board or to the majority of parents, teachers or stakeholders,” he said. “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.”
In his address, Ohl echoed what many others have said about school closures — that keeping them open should have taken precedence over opening bars, restaurants and fitness centers.
Noting he was making a political comment, Ohl said he was speaking as a scientist, doctor and parent, not as a representative of Wake Forest.
"These are play areas for adults, but we won’t open our schools?" Ohl said. "Shame on us as a society. What’s important?"
Schools, he said, “are pretty much safer than anywhere else around.”
According to the school’s COVID dashboard, the district has 30 confirmed student cases, with 19 of those at the high school level. Most of those are attributed to sports teams practicing. Ohl said athletics may need to be revisited.
There are also 50 confirmed cases among teachers and eight cases in the central district office.