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Give teachers 'medical grade PPE' to get schools reopened and students back in class, pediatrician urges

Instructor Amy Giang teaches a class of 4th-7th graders, wearing masks and spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines, during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020. By Shelby Lin Erdman

(CNN) -- Teachers should have access to "medical grade PPE" so schools can safely reopen, a pediatrician told CNN.

"We should treat them [staff and teachers] as essential workers and we should give them all of the safety equipment they need in order to be safe," Seattle pediatrician Dr. Dimitri Christakis told CNN's Jake Tapper Tuesday.

Christakis' suggestion comes as US school districts are grappling with when and how to reopen schools amid a surging pandemic.

Christakis urged schools to implement guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including frequent hand washing, masks and social distancing.

"Now some of those things are aspirational, and frankly will be very difficult to do, either because of the children's age or development stage or, frankly, because of the burden of the cost."

Christakis, the director of Seattle Children's Research Institute's Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, and others are urging the federal government to pass a new stimulus bill to help schools fund the costs of reopening during a pandemic.

President Donald Trump, who has been pushing for schools to reopen for the fall, threatened last week to cut off federal funding to schools that didn't open their doors in the new school year. But internal documents from the CDC warned that fully reopening K-12 schools and universities would be the "highest risk" for the spread of coronavirus, according to a New York Times report.

However, Christakis warns there's going to be a "price" to be paid if children don't return to school soon.

"We have to recognize that the needs of primary school children and children with special needs have to be given priority," he said.

"Primary school kids cannot learn well through distance learning. Any credible teacher, parent, pediatrician, or development expert knows that. So, they're not effectively getting much of an education at all unless they're being homeschooled effectively by their parents."

"Our kids are going to pay a price. Not today, but 15 years from now, we're going to see the effect of what we're doing. So, schools were the first thing to close, the last to open in most communities. From my perspective, it should be the exact opposite," he said.

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