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.