The following op-ed was submitted by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker:
Following Health Protocols Will Help Prevent Surge in Cases
With summer coming to a close, school buses are making the rounds again as children head back to school. But for thousands of Mississippi parents, teachers, and administrators, the new semester is adding new challenges to an already-stressful year. School districts have had to make tough decisions about when and how to reopen in light of the pandemic. Many are resuming lessons in person while following health guidelines. Others are taking a gradual approach starting with online learning or part-time classroom instruction.
There is no doubt that reopening our schools comes with risk, but keeping them closed would also bring heavy costs. School closures have already forced many working parents to stay home to care for their children, resulting in disruption to their jobs and the wider economy. Learning gaps and a lack of social interaction have taken a toll on children. And students who depend on school meals have had a harder time getting daily nutrition. School boards are carefully weighing these factors as they consider the best course of action for their communities.
Teachers Can Receive Free Tests
Students and teachers need to take careful precautions so that the return to school does not lead to a new surge in cases. This means wearing masks at all times, practicing social distancing, and washing hands frequently with soap. A number of schools have already taken decisive action to place students and teachers in quarantine if they have been exposed to the virus. These decisions are helping to protect the wider community and should be commended. As new cases emerge, transparency with parents will be essential. The Corinth School District has set a great example by posting regular updates online about COVID-19 cases linked to school.
Keeping teachers healthy is a top priority, and Mississippi is taking steps to make sure our educators have access to testing. Teachers can receive free coronavirus tests at UMMC’s drive-thru center in Jackson and at community sites across the state, and county health departments are offering free tests as well. Nationally we are approaching 1 million tests per day, and I support new federal funding to help states continue to improve testing and contact tracing.
As classes resume across the country, Senate Republicans are pushing for funding to help schools purchase personal protective equipment and technology upgrades. This would add to the nearly $170 million Mississippi received earlier in the year for these items. Republicans are also proposing childcare grants to help keep daycare facilities open, enabling more parents to return to work.
Expanding Broadband Will Aid Recovery
The internet has been a critical lifeline for classrooms, businesses, and churches during this difficult year. But not every community has benefitted equally from the internet. Many rural and minority communities continue to lag behind in broadband access, making their recovery more difficult.
Recently I introduced legislation to speed up the deployment of broadband in areas with no broadband service. I have also introduced legislation with Senator Tim Scott to support the expansion of broadband in areas surrounding historically black colleges. These schools are anchors of economic opportunity and broadband access in areas that continue to be underserved.
I am pushing Congress to pass both of these bills in the coming weeks to help our nation recover from the pandemic. Every classroom, business, and health care facility deserves full access to internet services as we work to overcome this national challenge.