Back-to-School Pandemic-Style is a Dangerous Fantasy:
A Recipe for Disaster = Child Experimentation + Mass COVID-19 Spread...
Posted Aug 03, 2020
Despite what some want you to believe, there is growing evidence that with high probability, kids can contract and spread COVID-19. So, to make more informed decisions as some still move forward this month with plans to send our kids back to school, let’s examine a few conservative projection models sharing how a great number of students could contract COVID-19 and how fast the virus could spread in the first month of reopening schools. As I am about to share, it highly unlikely that pandemic-mode schools will provide a safe or positive environment for healthy child development or socialization.
(Note: This model starts with just ONE student coming back to ONE school with COVID-19 and is based on a factor having students carrying COVID-19 infecting 3 other students per week.)
What’s a Person to Believe?
Every week our Science community ethically continues to analyze the numerous scraps of evidence left behind on the long and winding COVID-19 war trail. As this full-frontal viral attack slowly trudges on, scientists and doctors share their findings in hopes of helping us find better ways to fight this pandemic and survive. And just when we think we might have found one reliable and valid answer (i.e. a consistent and accurate finding) to this pandemic’s many mysteries, we then begin to hear conflicting opinions coming from politicians and others who apparently feel the need to not embrace Science.
Last week’s example of this unproductive pattern was the release of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study shares how older children (5 to 17 years of age) possibly carry the same levels of COVID-19 as adults. And for children under 5, they might be carrying 10 to 100 times more of the virus’s genetic material in their noses than older children and adults.
This study basically provides us evidence suggesting that despite less severity of symptoms often experienced by infected children, they still possibly carry the disease at equal or much higher levels as adults. With schools closing earlier this year, and thankfully hindering our ability to determine as to what extent children contribute to the spread of this pandemic, this recent evidence is fueling renewed discussion as to if younger and older children can spread the disease at similar or greater levels as adults have. Meanwhile, within 24 hours of this news being released, the president once again informed America that “children are almost immune to the disease”, while also sharing a disclaimer that he can’t offer us assurances that holding in-person classes will be safe.
“More than 200 of 600 kids attending a Georgia Summer camp in late June, tested positive for COVID-19 after just six days of being together.”
Other countries which have not seen the massive spike in cases the USA has had in recent months, however, shared a consistent message that wearing masks, social distancing and doing contact tracing equals getting better control over the corona-virus. But with so many Americans getting conflicting messages, for those just trying to get through another day in the USA it has become hard to know what to believe. To make matters worse, we seem to live in a world where confirmation bias leads us to more often believe those saying what we already think. Assuming that we will not see a national policy be put in place this year to help us become one in this fight against COVID-19, the information I share today is offered in hopes of helping state and local leaders (as well as educators, parents and students) understand the risk we face in reopening schools.
What Could Happen? Projection Models of COVID-19 Spread in Schools Paint Grim Outlook
Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if you believe or dismiss the president’s Nostradamus-like pandemic prediction mantra that COVID-19 will “just disappear.” Whether it’s true or false, ironically, it’s probably one of the few things he has said that all of us, every American red blue or independent, actually wishes would come true. Because in this hopefully temporary surrealistic pandemic world we live in, no matter if you believe the virus is real or even after 157,000 Americans have died from the virus you are still somehow holding on to the notion COVID-19 is a hoax, one and all are ready to return to our previous somewhat dysfunctional and less chaotic ways of life. In retrospect, returning to what we used to degradingly call the daily grind, somehow now seems like an out of reach distant Utopian wonderland, that we can only dream about all day long.
Given our collective desire to return to normalcy, at this point I suspect that even the most macho males I know would be willing to put on a pair of feminine shiny red sparkling lady pumps, click their heels three times together and repeat… there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. To Toto and everyone out there reading this appeal to logic and rational decision making, I get it folks. Like an unwanted pile of poo our pets occasionally leave on the floor as a gift for us in the morning, this situation we are in stinks every day from the minute we wake up. Thus, despite my reservations and warnings on pursuing a quick return to schools this month which I will share with you today, please know that I fully understand the various personal, economic and political reasons why so many are pushing so hard for kids to get back inside their classrooms.
But as illustrated above in Figure 1, we are not ready to take such a bold move and the risk is too high. Figure 1’s projection model, which I developed, shows us how quickly just one case of corona-virus could multiply within a school. The possibility exists that if even one student returns to a school with COVID-19, just one student, the outcomes have the potential to be devastating to the school and community. By opening schools and not testing children for COVID-19, schools starting with one case could easily reach 256 cases in the school within one month.
Given youth often do not show signs they have COVID-19 or experience rather mild symptoms that one might think is just a cold, the virus most likely will be able to spread without detection for several weeks, or at least until the school staff or parents start showing signs of the spread reaching adults connected to the school. And when those students take the virus home, that community could easily see 768 new cases in one month. Just one school, just one student. More to come on these details.
Doing the Math on Corona-virus Spread
As of July 22, 2020, we had tested 47 million Americans; which equated to about 14 % of the USA’s 328 million population. Now some of these tests were probably taken by people who had to be tested multiples times, so we probably have tested less than 14%. But when it comes to testing or lack thereof as we are experiencing currently due to demands and limited resources, and understanding what role kids play in this pandemic, the challenges grow.
The vast majority of the 47 million tests, due to limited resources, emergency needs and availability, have been administered to mainly adults showing serious symptoms of COVID-19. As a result, and as stats I will share shortly document kids only accounted for 8% of the existing cases, one can safely assume that a much smaller sample of kids have been tested. With testing of the masses being a continuing challenge, schools most likely are not going to be testing students for COVID-19 (before or even after schools go back in session) beyond a mandated at school or at-home voluntary temperature check at best. As a result, they probably will not be doing contact tracing at a moderate to high level either. And again, the limited experience and research we have suggests that kids when infected by COVID-19 often experience much less severity of symptoms and in some cases show no signs of the virus. Also, the virus sometimes takes up to 14 days to incubate before showing signs.
But if a youth can have the virus and not have a temperature, what good is taking one’s temperature? Such efforts seem as useless as testing employees for heart problems by documenting how much they weigh every day when they come to work. If COVID-19 tests are still takings days if not close to two weeks to get back the results, and sharing with the schools your child might have a cold or possibly the virus means having to keep them home for a week (aka a parent having to stay home from work), many might also practice the old “you’ll be fine buddy, let’s just see how the days goes with your friends at school, and oh btw don’t tell your teacher” approach. Basically, without truly testing kids for COVID-19, we will have no idea how many kids have had the virus or are spreading the virus actively in schools until someone in their home contracts it or teachers start becoming infected.
For a large percentage of families and schools, they will have no idea if children have the virus until it’s too late. All these pieces of the pandemic puzzle beg the question, what does this mean when it comes to how fast schools might see and possibly contribute to the unfortunate spread of the virus? And what I haven’t seen being published or discussed are projections, mathematical models on the “what ifs”, of the possible levels of spread by children to other children, and what that means to educators, the larger community and state they live in.
To give you some insight as to what I have been contemplating, and how such possibilities might impact my family, let’s take my son’s middle school as an example. We live in Ohio, and my son is going into seventh grade. Across grades sixth through eighth in his middle school, they have a student population of about 1,000. Please note we live in a county that has 174,000 residents; which by the way is a next-door suburban neighbor to one of the 11 major cities that should take aggressive action according to the White House Corona-virus Task Force’s Dr. Deborah Birx (coming from a recently leaked private conversation with governors).
To build a projection model that reflects a scenario where kids possibly spread the disease as fast as adults, I started with the assumption that possibly during another rise in cases (which Ohio like many other states has seen during the past month) and with continued limited testing, we have 1% of the students coming back to school carrying the virus. This one percent is not necessarily out of the realm of possibility. In our county we have had an infection rate of .006. And if we only have tested say… less than 10% of the County’s population, it’s quite possible that the percentage of infected could easily be five times that number (3%) or more.
Additionally, with 328 million Americans and 4.71 million infections to date, nationally we have experienced a 1% infection rate (I.e. 4.71 million/328 million = .0144 = 1.4%). And again, this number is probably higher given we have only tested less than 14% of our population. But for this scenario let’s just stick with one percent. What could happen in schools if one percent of kids come back with the virus?
Doing the Math, 1% of 1,000 equals 10 students in this school coming back with COVID-19. And when they only sit kids three to six feet apart for a whole school day (yes, our school district is actually considering 3 feet to be ample social distancing when at or below a Level 2 advisory), there’s a good possibility we are going to find out quickly if kids contract the virus and can spread the virus to other kids. Also, if you haven’t heard, recently we learned that more than 200 of 600 kids attending a Georgia Summer camp in late June, tested positive for COVID-19 after just six days of being together. And if there are students in schools that do have it and can spread it (and as every Magic Eight Ball shares “All signs point toward YES”), let’s also assume each of these 10 tweens or teens during the first week of school infects three more kids (you know, something small and conservative like one other student every other day).
(Note: This model is based on a factor of having each student carrying COVID-19 infecting 3 other students per week.)
Without testing taking place and students possibly not aware they have the virus, this means that at the end of the first week in this one middle school we will have 40 kids (e.g., the original 1st week’s 10 plus the 30 new cases) spreading the virus. And if each of these kids spread it to three more kids during the second week of classes, and these kids unknowingly carrying the virus are not tested again, we have 160 student cases (e.g., the existing 40 cases plus the new 120 cases), and continuing down this line of multiplication in only the third week after reopening we have 640 kids (the existing 160 cases plus the new 480 ) infected with COVID-19. By week 4 of the school reopening, basically the whole school is infected.
Of course, after about 14 days of the virus being passed around, it’s quite possible if not highly probable teachers and adult staff are going to start showing signs of contracting the virus. Moms, dads, grandparents and siblings at the homes are going to possibly start contracting the virus. And at an average of each infected student spreading the virus to only 2 adult persons at school or home over the month, we could possibly have more than 3,000 new cases from just this one school in one month.
If we use the current USA mortality rate of 3.4%, that equates to a possible 102 priceless lives lost in the community from one school. I would hate to be the superintendent responsible for sending kids back if something like this happens. And with just 25% of the other 2,000 plus middle or high schools across the State of Ohio possibly experiencing similar outbreaks and spread, we suddenly are looking at close to one and half million (1,500,000) new state cases in a month. And again, if we use the current USA mortality rate of 3.4%, that is 51,000 possible additional avoidable deaths in the state.
Again, this model is based on 1% of kids possibly having it and spreading it to only 3 others per week in a middle school. And researchers worry the spread in high schools more likely will move at a higher pace. So, Figure 2 also gives us an estimate of what spread in a more populated larger high school might look like. As for elementary schools, personally I would assume similar results as above. But some still want to believe it is a wait and see to determine if the youngest are spreading the virus like the older middle and high school students. The jury is still out on this sample of students, but rest assured that if this human experiment takes place, we will know very soon. And as the numbers above show us, once we go there, it’s going to be hard to come back from.
But even if you think 1% is an outrageous number of kids showing up the first day with the virus, let’s go back to Figure 1 where I used the same model and simple multiplication for a scenario where just one student with the virus enters any school on the first day (e.g., a tenth of the sample above). As the “one student with COVID-19” projection model illustrates, using the same factor of spreading to 3 students per week and 2 adults over the month, with this model we still end up with 256 kids infected in one school in one month, and 768 across the County (including students, adults and family). And if we multiplied this by 500 other schools across the state having similar experiences, that equates to 384,000 new cases in the state after one month, and possibly 13,056 avoidable deaths.
We have no idea what we are stepping into folks. And anyone stating that kids do not get the virus, or do not spread the virus, is sharing their hopes if not blatant lies. There is no definitive proof of this claim. Why? Because luckily, we have kept kids at home and basically out of the virus spread equation by closing schools. For schools still thinking about returning or being forced by their governors to return, many are about to perform a reckless human experiment that could turn out to be one of the worst decisions ever made in America. And our kids and those of us who care for them are the guinea pigs, the lab rats.
But They Say “Socialization” is Essential… Ain’t Gonna Happen Folks
As a professor who was being told until recently to return to the classroom within the next month, honestly, I was not excited. I was actually highly concerned for my colleagues, my students, myself and all our families. But college is a different bird than K12. We typically see these kids for a few hours every other day or so. Not every day and all day long. But could similar projections of COVID-19 happen on college campuses? Yes, and this is why I am very concerned about my daughter starting her freshman year in college at a university which is moving forward with on-campus instruction and students living in the dorms.
Though the statistics I share might be dismissed by some as pure speculation, you know… predictive models based on only one child slowly spreading to a few others every week, we must consider what other school systems have experienced overseas. We should think deeply about the outcomes recently shared from the Summer camp in Georgia where the numbers grew to more than 200 infected within six days. We must consider the fact, that we have no idea what could happen.
Personally, I hope I am wrong on my predictions and projections for colleges and school districts who head back to the physical classroom this month. But these numbers painting possible outcomes are why I am literally scared for PreK-12 teachers and school staff, students and their families nationwide. And the more I read the plans being pushed by the White House, CDC and U.S. Department of Education, the more I keep scratching and shaking my head in disbelief. As a psychologist who specializes in child development, child welfare, educational research and statistical analysis, I am floored, flabbergasted and disgusted with a few of the headlines I have seen the past weeks.
One of this Summer’s headlines, which made me continue to wonder if we have lost our entire grasp on reality in the USA, began to materialize a month ago when everyone and their brother Daryl started citing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recent questionable insights on what being in school means to children. As PBS.org summarized the AAP suggestions on July 2, 2020:
“Pandemic or no, children learn best in an actual classroom, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a June 25 statement. School offers a structured place for children to grow academically, but also mentally and emotionally. It is where children learn how to share and socialize. School regularly serves as a stable source of nutrition for children who live in food-insecure homes, structured education for students with special needs and security for those at risk of child abuse, neglect and trauma.”
Vice President Pence, and many others at the federal, state and local levels encouraging the back to school now plans, have cited the AAP statement countless times in recent weeks, stressing the essential need for kids to be able to socialize. I agree that socialization is an essential variable to positive healthy child development. But there are many reasons why the term “socialization” is being misused in this flawed justification. Furthermore, how does AAP know if such research that was completed during non-pandemic times applies to when we are in a pandemic?
Since we haven’t had a pandemic in recent times, did they somehow go out and do secret pandemic studies on children, schools and communities? Of course not. They have no idea if past research on the strengths of schools will apply to these challenging times. And just to be clear, if you read the AAP’s complete June 25th statement, you should also know that a study conducted by AAP in 2018 highlighted a seasonal pattern for hospitalizations for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, where those behaviors decreased during summer months (aka out of school times) and were higher in fall and spring (that is, in-person school months showed higher levels of ideation and suicide attempts).
I strongly agree, however, we need to figure out how to keep all our children fed; this needs to be first and foremost on everyone’s to do list. We also need to figure out a way to better closely monitor for abuse, neglect and trauma when kids are not in their “brick and mortar” classrooms. Additionally, if we were not in the middle or possibly beginning of a pandemic, I would agree with the AAP that having kids in seats, next to other kids, with a passionate teacher sharing knowledge and the message of hope is a far superior model for education and development than online; but again these are different times.
Furthermore, I am a huge believer in the importance of children socializing. A few years ago, I was one of the authors of the 838-page Handbook of Prosocial Education, a book that documents how schools were basically developed in the USA to be social incubators for our future citizens. The book is intended to serve as the next platform for our national education policy and illustrates how the most effective and successful schools focus equally if not more on the social side of schools in combination with the academic side of school. Our hope is to eventually shift policy to an approach that allows teachers to get back to inspiring and preparing kids for the test of life, and not a life of tests (e.g., standardized tests that have shown no signs of improvement after spending billions annually for more than two decades).
The timing of this statement from AAP, however, is what really surprises me. Why now, in a pandemic, with the high concern for kids’ development and socialization? Has their foot traffic of monthly wellness checks slowed down too much? As I have shared in blogs, and a book I wrote on the over-diagnosis of ADHD and the dangerous drugs prescribed, I am convinced that far too many pediatricians must not know or care about child development.
Why? Because for more than a decade many pediatricians have been speed diagnosing and drugging tens of millions of infants, toddlers, children and teens who are basically displaying normal and temporary behavioral challenges that research has documented and cited in child development textbooks for decades. It is as if pediatricians suddenly decided to dust off a long-forgotten textbook from their undergraduate years and develop a new passion or concern for child development.
For several decades they have been labeling normal developmental behaviors (which typically will pass with time and maturation) as symptoms of a mental disorder associated with anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, depression and mood disorders; and yes, there are pediatricians drugging infants and toddlers for nearly all the above disorders. In the past it has seemed that their answer to such behavioral and developmental challenges is to put children on dangerous and addictive pharmaceutical drugs to help kids get through seven hours of instruction, basically void of enjoyable peer-to-peer socialization and make home life less disruptive. As to how some of these pediatricians, or even politicians and school district leaders, think going back to school in the midst of resurgent or ongoing pandemic is going to somehow equate to what we in child development label as essential socialization, they must be heavily medicated as well.
In most districts nationwide even still considering having kids come back to their classrooms, the expectation when kids return is that the teachers, staff and students are going to be wearing masks every day and all day. So, let’s not fool ourselves. Though they might be wearing masks, it’s not going to be like every day is Halloween folks. There will most likely not be any fun or fancy costumes. No candy. No staying up late to do an accounting of the bootie. I visualize just the opposite.
Picture if you will...
Cue the Twilight Zone theme music... nan-nuh, nan-nuh, nan-nuh, nan-nuh… It’s a pandemic. More than 17.9 million people have been infected worldwide with 26% of the cases (4.71 Million and growing) being Americans. More than 680,000 people have died worldwide and 157,000 of those deaths have happened at home. Millions have lost their job; poverty is increasing, and many are finding it near impossible to pay their bills and feed their families.
Life as we know it has changed from playing carefree outside or hanging out at the mall and eating at restaurants, to staying at home alone every day… all day. But the powers that be are afraid their party’s politicians will lose their elections, and somehow in a state of panic think the economy will only get worse if kids do not return to school. After a Summer of heated debate, the decision is made, and children are now to be either dropped off at school or riding one person to a seat in the bus. No talking on that bus. You hear me?
Their temperature is taken as they enter the school, and if the temperature is above 100 degrees, they are sent to a quarantine room or sent home with orders to be tested for the virus. And if they clear the temperature check, they spend the entire day sitting hopefully 6 feet apart and wearing masks in their classroom for seven consecutive periods of direct instruction. Meanwhile, their worried, tired, frustrated and possibly aging or high-risk teacher stands before them, for eight hours, in the same barely ventilated room (sometimes unable to open the window for fresh air). Meanwhile, to not sound like Charlie Brown’s muffled teacher from those old Peanuts specials, they must adjust their masks throughout the day, increasing further risk of exposure. Again, to reduce germ sharing, limited talking is the norm to lower the spread.
The Twilight Zone theme music was my attempt to try and keep us all from becoming more depressed. Sorry if such humor seems off putting. But the picture of the world we are being asked to send our kids back to just seems like something out of the Twilight Zone to me.
I don’t know about you, but I find wearing my mask for a speed shopping trip at the grocery to be painful. And I highly suspect that, if we are truly trying to keep this virus from spreading (aka wearing masks, limiting interaction between the students and the adults) that no one in these schools is going to be “socializing” to an extent that most kids would label fun, or what child development or mental health experts would consider beneficial to behavioral or emotional health.
Most likely, no gym class, no music, limited recess, and no lunch time to kick back and laugh with friends. You know, the fun stuff. Just get your folders from your locker, sit down, don’t move and somehow focus and listen Billy. Hurry up Billy. Put your mask back on Billy. No talking, I said… quiet for $#1% sakes Billy!
“But where is our teacher Mrs. Baker? Is she alright? And why is Justin and Emma not in class today? Are they alright?”, asks another student. “Just focus on your Science assignment.” Replies the substitute teacher.
It’s a double shot of scary and crazy what we are considering to be the best path forward. I think after a few days, and definitely after a few weeks, with kids sitting in these classrooms as sweat builds under their mask from their nose down to their chin, they are going to wish they could just go back home and do the online alternative. But I also think that many are not going to properly wear a clean mask all day long. And due to too many people in proximity being in a classroom for far too long of time, with basically few children having been tested for COVID-19, this is when our dystopian nightmare is only going to grow worse. I suspect the back to school movement is going to be a short and costly failed experiment. And I strongly urge all parents to take advantage of the online alternative if your district is offering such options.
So Let the Games… uh, I mean Spread, Begin
The other recent headline that left me dumbfounded and slightly irritated was from our current U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She stated the following...
“More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves, so we should be in a posture of — the default should be getting back to school kids in person, in the classroom.”
— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in an interview on “The Conservative Circus” (iHeart radio), July 16
Again, like others in the Trump Administration, during this interview she cites the pediatricians’ misguided socialization suggestions. But “stoppers” of viruses? Historically, from experience as an educator and a parent, most colds and flus that adults catch, come from working with such vividly visible running noses and uncovered coughing and sneezing mouths or living with these loveable walking petri dishes. According to her staff, they based the stoppers claim mainly on a German study. But this study they cite has not even been peer-reviewed or published. Even the study’s authors when interviewed shared that the results do not apply to a country such as the United States, where infections have been soaring.
Another fact that basically debunks the DeVos’ “stoppers” claim comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics who reported that as of July 16, 2020, 241,904 child coronavirus cases were reported in the USA (which equated to 8% of the total USA cases at that time). And this same group of doctors who now are not worried about kids going back to school and catching the virus, additionally previously shared that sadly about 180 young Americans from 1 to 24 have died from COVID-19. Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reported, there are plenty of examples (i.e. South Korea, Israel, and the USA-New York) of how children within schools have contracted and spread the virus.
Yes, for heavens to Betsy, children can contract, spread and die from the disease. And considering we closed schools in March in most states, and still have 8% of Americans who contracted the virus being children, imagine what it will be like when we put them all in a nice hot, possibly not air-conditioned or barely ventilated classroom, with doors and windows shut, for long days of continuous possible exposure to the virus. Or imagine what it will be like when schools, such as my local school district, feel that six feet of separation is just too much, and instead adopts only three feet of separation for what they define as social distancing.
I just find it outrageous that we somehow are misciting and ignoring Science that provides real evidence and instead are pushing to put kids back in schools because supposedly during a pandemic they can learn Science better there. Talk about an oxymoron. Again, I hope I am wrong, and I hope Secretary DeVos is surprisingly right.
There are Better and Safer Alternatives to Take… and It’s NOT Forever
Please know, though what I share might paint a bleak future, I try every day to personify a positive and hopeful outlook for my family and friends. But like so many other stressed parents, it’s often hard to shake off the fear that we might be in this state of mind for another year. Thus, as we sit in our homes and ponder who is right when it comes to the back-to-school talks and actions, there is a lot to consider. But currently, our level of knowledge for COVID-19 in the USA is based on only six months of scrambling and knowing the circumstances and outcomes for approximately 1.4 out of every 10 people (14%) who have had or have the virus.
With full disclosure, I am a parent who has spent every day, all day long, with his kids since the university I teach at and my children’s schools went online in the Spring. I love my children longer than any lane and higher than the sky, but as a parent, I can fully understand why many are dreaming about seeing kids return to school sooner than yesterday. What started out as a scary and disruptive anomaly in our lives (cutely labeled Corona-cation for coping purposes in our household), has now become a Groundhog Day-like reoccurring nightmare. For mental health and economic issues tied to stress, trauma, and being financially strapped and unemployed, every day seems like an eternity for so many.
We are all worried about the economy. But if we see either of these projection models that I shared above become reality across a handful of states, or possibly even a few large counties, everything will be shut down nationwide. Especially if the adults catching the virus from the students are teachers. We will not have enough teachers or substitute teachers available and or willing to keep schools open. We can more likely, however, avoid another shutdown by keeping kids home, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Plus, despite what others are sharing about the wonderfulness of socialization, think about what your child’s experience will be attending school for months on end wearing a mask every day. Think about the trauma they might experience and have a hard time shaking if their school becomes one of the schools where the pandemic takes a hold. Think about how they might feel when they find out they brought the virus home to you (their parent or grandparent), and even worse if someone in the family doesn’t survive the virus.
I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to write this piece. And I’m sincerely sorry if it is causing you discomfort. But like the Lorax, I’m just trying to speak for the kids, their families and the superheroes we call teachers.
Teaching and doing statistical analysis (aka da’ Math), typically focused on at-risk youth, is what I do for a living. I eat, sleep and breath numbers basically every day. And I just felt the need to write down and share some of the COVID-19 numbers that have been floating around in my head every night as I tried to forget what I just watched on the news and go to sleep. And when you play with the one percent or the tenth of one percent, and such miniscule numbers still paint a picture of a modern day horror movie with just a few kids giving it to a few more kids every week, someone needs to point out the obvious.
Going back to school comes with too many unknowns. We have no idea what we are stepping into. Forgive my fascination with Shark Week, but sending kids back to school because we supposedly have no data showing that kids can contract, die from or spread COVID-19 because we removed the kids from school when the new virus first started to spread (and apparently are incapable of reading what the evidence really tells us), is basically as risky if not more as having kids swim with sharks.
Taking such chances is like a family going to a remote location in the Pacific Ocean where no children or even adults have ever swum with the sharks before. The mother asks the dive master, “Has any child ever died swimming with sharks here before?” The dive master responds, “No, there are zero reported deaths of children being attacked by sharks here. It’s safe. Children are shark stoppers.”
The better alternative to me, as I am seeing more and more districts pursue after much deliberation, is to scrap the back to in-school reopening plans immediately. If you need more time for Plan B, delay opening for a few weeks to a month and give teachers the time to build what they need to deliver quality instruction online. And for as long as we need to, whether that means getting a vaccine that works or getting our testing and contact tracing up to speed, let’s go online with school. By taking this more conservative and cautious path forward, teachers can create a quality online education for their students, and all of us can stay safer.
Yes, this means parents and families are going to have to find a way to care for their younger kids doing school at home and work with teachers to support with schoolwork. Yes, this means the government or most likely counties need to act quickly and support our low income, unemployed and single parents’ some with young and older children who will not have someone to watch their kids during the day or help with the online schools resources they need.
If you are worried about socialization, please put the extra effort into communicating with your children’s friends’ parents and find time for your child and their friends to hangout safely. Maybe find a family or two who you can share the days with to help monitor the kids working online. Let them spend quality time often with their friends and have a chance to experience real socialization with their friends. Widen your bubble to a family or families practicing the level of safety you are adhering to. Doing this approach will be far less risky than exposing your child to every child in the school who might come from families too cool to wear a mask. And as most children will attest to, the socialization will be far superior to a pandemic school setting.
By doing this, wearing masks and improving testing, we can keep the economy rolling. We can keep jobs, and we can create more jobs. We can protect our loved ones who are at higher risk of being killed by the virus.
I’m not sure if you have heard this news, but the vaccines being developed during this first warp speed round must only document safety and a 50% efficacy level (aka 50% effective). In other words, it’s quite possible with the first vaccines we will have a 50% chance it might keep us from getting COVID-19. Therefore, in my opinion, we should be pushing for more testing, contact tracing, better therapeutics to help lessen the severity and risk of dying from the virus, and actually pushing these companies developing the vaccines to take a little more time and make a vaccine which works with 80% or higher efficacy.
Please let me end by sharing one last plea. Quit listening to the politicians, until they start caring more about Americans than the poll numbers, reelection efforts. It seems like not a day goes by that we don’t hear how it’s the testing that is increasing the number of cases. And somehow, a considerable percentage of Americans believe this to be true.
Imagine if life was good again and we had defeated COVID-19, and we decided to test everyone, just to make sure. Theoretically what those tests would show is that more tests don’t equate to more cases. These tests would show us that the tests are responsible for creating the virus. Because why? Exactly, there wouldn’t be more cases to identify.
But in today’s world, COVID-19 is spreading at one of the fastest rates we have experienced. So, the more testing we do, the more we discover that more people have the disease than the minimal 14% of the population we have tested to date. If you cracked open your piggy bank today, dumped everything you have on the table, and started counting your coins, it wouldn’t matter how many coins you counted (e.g., tested) because every coin you have in front of you is the real number of coins you have.
Testing is just a form of confirming how many cases we have; it’s called counting. And though some people might believe MATH is an acronym for Mental Abuse to Humans, why are we not counting the COVID-19 cases which we know are basically sitting right there in front of us? If we don’t test them, aka count and identify them, how are we ever going to be capable of doing contact tracing? If someone does with COVID-19 does not get tested, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the virus, or their case does not exist. I really at this point wonder why we are still having to explain this to people. But we don’t beat diseases by not knowing the facts about them. We don’t find cures or vaccines by not identifying and studying individuals who have a disease. Cancer is not going to away if we just stop testing, and I am fairly confident COVID-19 is not going to away if we just stop testing.
Sadly, ignorance is no longer bliss in America. What I would like to imagine takes place in the very near future, is instead of pushing for kids to return to school and unfortunately experiencing the worst outcomes ever imagined, we put our political mouths and capitol toward testing. Just imagine if instead of watching our cases multiply over a month of back to school, we left kids at home, and we tested everyone from coast to coast. Then all would know if they have the virus. We could provide treatment and help them let everyone they know to be careful and self-quarantine. And after a few weeks or a month or two of treatment and quarantine, we could get the number of cases down to something we could manage effectively and do contact tracing for if anything starts to flare up. This is what other countries have done and their pandemic is much less scary than ours at this point. If we are going to get by this virus, we need to stop the virus from spreading.
With leaving kids at home, wearing masks when out and about, keeping clean, practicing social distancing… and moving testing to the next level we can beat this thing. But if we end up forcing kids to go back to brick and mortar school buildings, all signs point toward a recipe for disaster.