COVID-19 and Schools
Education

Someone’s Child – Some Child’s Teacher:

COVID-19 and Schools During Fall 2021

Virtually everyone agrees that we need schools open in face-to-face modes this school year. The harm to students trying to learn "at home" instead of "at school" is too great not to open schools. Nevertheless, having schools open increases the risk for students, faculty/staff, family members, and the public. Therefore, we must do everything we can to mitigate the risks at schools.

Without universal masking and vaccination, some will die from COVID-19. Odds are it will not be your child or your child's teacher, but it will be someone's child, and it will be some child's teacher!

Without universal masking and vaccination of those eligible in schools, millions of students, faculty, and staff will contract COVID-19. Some of those contracting COVID-19 will become seriously ill and be hospitalized. Some of those hospitalized will die from COVID-19. Odds are it will not be your child or your child's teacher, but it will be someone's child, and it will be some child's teacher!

The public perception that COVID-19 does not threaten children has always been false. So far, 5,292,837 child COVID-19 cases have been reported, and children represented 15.5% of all cases in the US. Because of the higher percentage of older Americans that are now vaccinated, currently, 40% of the nation's COVID-19 cases are people under the age of 20, and the largest demographic group contracting the virus is children under 10. There have been 500,000 pediatric cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association data (as of September 9, 2021) shows that 20,436 children have been hospitalized, and 460 have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. This data about children and COVID-19 is , admittedly, incomplete. The hospitalization data is only from 23 states and New York City. The mortality data is only from 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam. So, the actual numbers are higher, perhaps twice as high for hospitalization and a bit higher for deaths.

The reopening of schools this past Spring led to outbreaks both within schools and somewhat more broadly. The same has been true as schools have opened this school year. Today we have a real threat to schools remaining open because of new Covid-19 variants, particularly the delta variant. Nevertheless, much of the nation is acting as if nothing is going on. In some hard-hit states, governors have issued bans against mask mandates and vaccine mandates. In other places not so hard hit, many schools are operating without masks. A vocal minority of parents claim that they should be able to decide whether their children wear masks in school. This is a mistaken proposition because not having their child mask impacts not just their child but everyone with which that child comes into contact.

The anti-masking and anti-vaccine voices are putting the nation’s children at risk and threaten the continuation of face-to-face schooling. Our actions—or in this case inactions—could well lead us back to virtual education—something that would be terrible for the students of America.

The anti-masking and anti-vaccine voices are putting the nation’s children at risk and threaten the continuation of face-to-face schooling.

There are currently more than 100,000 persons hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States. That is more than last August when there was no vaccine yet available. Several states, especially southern ones with low vaccination rates, are running out of ICU beds or even general hospital beds. I would suggest that you not have a severe heart attack or car accident in states such as Florida, Alabama, Texas, Idaho, or Alaska. You may not be able to get an ICU bed, or you may have to wait hours just to get into an emergency room.

The situation is quite dire as we open schools this Fall. In places where schools have opened, there are tens of thousands of students in quarantine and hundreds of classrooms and whole schools that have had to close because of the large number of COVID-19 cases. Thousands of teachers and school staff members have already become infected. More children are becoming hospitalized and even dying from the pandemic than in the past.

masked schoolgirl

A few examples illustrate the difficulty of having schools open. A California elementary school did everything right. Masks were required, and they practiced social distancing. However, a teacher took her mask off for the read-aloud story time. Within days, half of her class tested positive for the delta variant of COVID. At Connally Junior High School near Waco, Texas, two social studies teachers have died from COVID-19 after school reopened for this school year. In Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, a 13-year-old healthy boy died from COVID-19, and the school he attends did not require masks.

This threat is why it is so significant that everyone eligible for vaccination gets vaccinated, including children under 12, when they become eligible. The threat is why we need universal masking in schools. The more that the virus circulates, the more that it mutates, creating new variants. Dangerous variants such as delta already exist, but the more the virus circulates, the more variants that will emerge, and they could be much worse than delta.

Masked graduates
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Coronavrus
Education

The Pandemic Is Not Over

Covid-19 is Still a Risk to the United States

With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declaration that fully vaccinated persons no longer need to wear masks or socially distance, many American adults act as if the pandemic is over. Many who are not fully vaccinated seem to think they also no longer need to wear masks or socially distance. The decreasing vaccination rates also suggest that the nonvaccinated believe that they do not need to get vaccinated. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Covid-19 pandemic is still a significant threat not only globally but also here in the United States.

Because I have previously written on the subject, I will use the reopening of schools, which has taken place this Spring and even earlier, as an object lesson. Most school districts now have at least a face-to-face option available to students. Moreover, the negative impact on students not being "in school" is significant enough that there is near unanimous support for having schools return to some form of face-to-face instruction.  However, public support alone does not make it the right decision.

Have You Considered?

When the US opened schools this Spring, there was evidence and factors that should have given us some pause and caused us to question whether this was the right time. Admittedly, much of the following evidence is only anecdotal and draws heavily from Midwest, the part of the country where I live. I am not suggesting this evidence is determinative, but I do believe that the general public should have been made more aware of these things as our nation sent our children and youth to school during the ongoing pandemic. More importantly, it should serve as a warning why, even as restrictions are lifted, those in the US should not act as if the pandemic is over.  Instead, we need to act consistently with the realization that we are still operating in a hazardous world.

  • First of all, between 400 and 500 people still die from Covid-19 each day in the United States.
  • The CDC has provided excellent advice on how schools can be open safely in a document titled Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention. However, I have seen estimates that only 4-6% of the nation's schools can meet these guidelines. Moreover, with states ending mask mandates (one of the safety requirements in the document), many schools are no longer requiring students to wear masks while at school. The governor of Georgia recently signed an executive order prohibiting all schools in his state from making mask-wearing mandatory.
  • The public perception that Covid-19 does not threaten children is false. According to the CDC, during April, 9% of Covid-19 cases were age 12-17 and according to the CDC's Dr. Sara Oliver, adjusted estimates (statistically correcting for under-reporting), over the entire course of the pandemic, 22 million children age 5-17 have been infected with coronavirus, or 19% of all Covid-19 cases in the United States.
  • In addition, data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association reveals that as of April 29, 2021, 11,637 children have been hospitalized, and 213 have died from Covid-19 since mid-August 2020, when schools began to reopen.
  • Moreover, the CDC had reported that youth (age 12-17) hospitalizations for Covid-19 has been increasing since March.
  • Childcare centers in both Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have recently had outbreaks. Those contracting Covid-19 included some of the preschool students, staff, and family members.
  • The opening of most schools in Michigan this Spring appears to have been a significant driver of expanding Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state. More specific analysis indicates that the spread was among those participating in non-classroom activities, especially school-based and club sport, rather than in the classroom.  Further study suggested that the spread was not centered in practices or games but with what the students did after practices and games, such as hanging out and eating together. Parents with children currently participating in sports and activities might want to consider the risks and exactly where the risk is largest and make appropriate decisions about their children's actions.
  • The Milwaukee Public Schools reopened most of its schools on April 14. Two weeks later, the district had to close five entire schools and 51 classrooms at 22 other schools because of coronavirus infections. Most of the infections were among students, but a significant number of staff members were also infected.
  • Finally, there is the threat from variants. This threat is why it is so significant that everyone who is eligible for vaccination gets vaccinated, including children when they become eligible. The more that the virus circulates, the more that it mutates, creating new variants. Dangerous variants already exist, but the more the virus circulates, the more variants will emerge. In some parts of the world, Covid-19 is still (or again) out of control, including places in Asia where the pandemic was previously controlled. While it has not received much press in the United States, there is a crisis in the Osaka area of Japan, and the crisis is now spreading to other parts of the country. Some believe that the Olympics may yet have to be canceled. In Brazil, a variant is killing children five and under at an alarming rate.

There are still dangers for us in the United States from Covid-19; yet I fear many of us have become complacent, thinking the pandemic is over. The vaccines may well save us from our complacency if we get everyone who is eligible, including children, vaccinated. However, it would be a real tragedy if the move to open schools this Spring causes us not to have schools open come Fall. In any event, with the information above, we should now carefully think about our activities and those of our children/youth this summer.

School during Covid-19
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