COVID-19 AND SCHOOL OPENINGS?
Written July 15, 2020, and updated February 1, 2021
Under normal (pre-pandemic) circumstances, face-to-face learning in a school or home is far superior educationally to virtual (online, with zoom, etc.) learning. But when a) there is a pandemic virus, as is the case today with covid-19, and b) there is no reliably effective treatment available nor a vaccine that we can be very confident prevents infection and hence contagiousness (even if the approved vaccines have indeed been shown to greatly reduce the probability of an infected person experiencing Covid-19 disease symptoms), and c) there are not truly adequate testing and surveillance procedures in most schools (especially in the ones serving poor communities) that can reliably ensure that nobody in the school is infected (possibly without symptoms), then face-to-face learning (i.e., opening up the schools)--even with the masks and physical distancing regulations coming from the CDC--is not a safe and practical option.
An advisory board of experts produced an article titled, "Can children spread the new coronavirus? Here's what research says." The article says that there are too few studies presently to know for sure how much or little children can infect others with the covid-19 virus. However, this very important information is included in the article:
For instance, in one study released by Christian Drosten, Germany's chief virologist, researchers wrote that they "found no significant difference" in the viral loads of the new coronavirus "between any pair of age categories, including children." Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that "[c]hildren may be as infectious as adults," and recommended that countries practice "caution against an unlimited re-opening of schools and kindergartens in the present situation."
Kristine Macartney, lead author of the study on children in South Wales schools, noted that the preliminary study did not account for whether schools had implemented social distancing measures, and she suggested the results shouldn't be used as a basis for reopening schools.
"We did see low transmission," but "we didn't see no transmission," Macartney said. "I think children can still transmit coronavirus. That's certainly the case. We've seen that."
More recently The New York Times reported the following based on a new study:
A large new study from South Korea offers an answer: Children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.
The findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages, several experts cautioned.
“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.
“There will be transmission,” Dr. Osterholm said. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”
Several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. But most of those studies were small and flawed, said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The new study “is very carefully done, it’s systematic and looks at a very large population,” Dr. Jha said. “It’s one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”
Amazingly, and disgustingly, President Trump's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, in announcing the president's determination to open up the schools for business as usual, said (watch the video), "The science should not stand in the way." Then, to add insult (as well as idiocy) to injury, McEnany cited a scientific study that showed children were much less likely than adults to get the serious covid-19 disease when infected--a fact that is both true and IRRELEVANT to the question of whether it is safe (for teachers and parents and others who will come in contact with children) to open up the schools and make it easy for the virus to spread from child to child and to adults they are near.
The current Biden administration also says it aims to open up the schools.
Here's a National Geographic article about the spread of Covid-19 in various places, including school buildings. From this article it is clear that unless a school building has an extremely effective (and generally costly) air conditioning system designed to remove very small virus-bearing aerosols, or windows that can be opened for very good exchange of interior with outdoor air, there is a substantial risk of infectious levels of virus accumulating inside a classroom if there is an infected person there.
Here is a medical article titled, "More Evidence Points to Kids Being COVID-19 'Silent Spreaders'— Study: 93% of infections would have been missed if only symptomatic cases were tested" by Elizabeth Hlavinka, Staff Writer, MedPage Today August 28, 2020.
Here is another medical journal article reporting:
"Twelve children acquired COVID-19 in child care facilities. Transmission was documented from these children to at least 12 (26%) of 46 nonfacility contacts (confirmed or probable cases). One parent was hospitalized. Transmission was observed from two of three children with confirmed, asymptomatic COVID-19."
Click here to see the Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine Trial Results (Note that in the Discussion section it states: "These data do not address whether vaccination prevents asymptomatic infection;". This means that vaccinated people may still be infectious and, to the extent that this is so, then herd immunity from vaccinations will not occur, even if almost everybody is vaccinated.)
What Happens If We Open the Schools?
Consider these questions posed by Guy Brandenburg (which governmental bodies have so far not answered):
Questions for your district regarding school openings:
• If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
• If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
• Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids' families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
• What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?
• Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
• Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
• What if a student in your kid's class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?
• What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?
• How will it affect students and faculty when the first teacher in their school dies from this? The first parent of a student who brought it home? The first kid?
• How many more people are going to die, that otherwise would not have if we had stayed home longer?
30% of the teachers in the US are over 50. About 16% of the total deaths in the US are people between the ages of 45-65.
We are choosing to put our teachers AND STUDENTS in danger.
There has to be a solid plan for safety moving forward!
What Might Egalitarians Do If They Were In Power? (i.e., What Should We Aim for Even When We're Not in Power?)
First of all, if egalitarians were in power, then the decision about whether or not to open the schools would not be based on the concerns that actually motivate the people in power today. Today, those concerns are selfish ones:
1. For Trump, it's a concern for getting re-elected. Trump hopes that if the schools are opened, then parents will be free to go back to work as usual, and Trump will be able to say, "See, I solved the pandemic problem and got us back up and running again." Sure, more people will die, but Trump will ignore that pesky fact.
2. For many big capitalists, it's a concern for getting people back to work in their businesses and getting customers back to buying their products or services so they can resume making big profits again, and this requires getting the teachers back to work as baby sitters to free up the parents to resume being employees and customers.
Egalitarians would be concerned about:
1. Protecting public health as much as possible.
2. Providing essential products and services that people need.
3. Educating our children as well as possible.
The first concern--protecting public health--would mean not opening up the schools before it is clearly safe to do so, even if that means they don't open for a long time.
The second concern--providing essential goods and services-- would mean implementing the egalitarian economic principle of "From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need." Because of the pandemic, this would mean that people who had been doing essential work and who could continue doing so safely when provided with required personal protective equipment (PPE) would be expected to continue doing such work and they would have the right to take what they needed or reasonably desired for free from the economy or have scarce things as rationed.
It would mean that the provision of PPE would be a top priority.
It would mean that people who had not previously been doing essential work but who could reasonably start doing it in some manner safely would be expected to do so if and when necessary or helpful, and they too would have the same right to take what they needed or reasonably desired (or receive scarce things equitably rationed according to need) for free.
It would mean that with lots more people now doing essential work, each essential worker would be able to work much fewer hours per week than currently, and this would mean even essential workers would have time to help their children learn at home. Parents and/or small groups of friends with children could then arrange their essential work schedules so that some would do the child care/educating of the children of essential workers while their parent(s) are working.* Also, ALL parents could have a face-to-face teacher for their children (like wealthy parents are doing already) because instead of having to pay the teacher, the teacher would be able to take what he or she needed for free or receive scarce things equitably rationed according to need.
It would mean that people who, for whatever reason, could not reasonably start doing essential work safely would be asked to "stay at home" for the sake of public safety and do whatever useful work they could reasonably do at home, however little or much that might be. They would ALSO be able to take for free what they needed or reasonably desired from the economy (since they would be contributing "according to reasonable ability," even if in some cases that might be zero.)
In about half of Spain in 1936 the economy was based on this "From each according to ..." principle and guess what? Productivity increased! Read the details here.
The third concern--educating our children as well as possible--would entail devoting lots of thought and creativity towards this end. It doesn't take too much imagination to think of some of the things people might do to continue educating our children without unsafely opening the schools. Online teaching is not ideal, but it could still accomplish much good. Young children could probably learn to read and write with the help of a combination of their parents at home and online teachers.
One of the main advantages of an egalitarian society is that children would know that they are truly free to make the world a better world in whatever way they wish, and that they will have the support of the larger society in this regard (in stark contrast to how it is today for so many children!) This means they would be enthusiastic about learning--as almost all children start out being and remain until the harsh and unjust class inequality of today disillusions them and replaces enthusiasm to learn with hopelessness and fatalism for so many working class children. Enthusiastic and hopeful children would learn in spite of whatever obstacles the pandemic imposes.
Some children would want to use their ability to read and write to learn X and others Y and others Z, and they would be given the freedom to do so. Some would learn mainly math and others mainly history, etc. (and many a bit of this and that and the other.) Even without opened-up schools, there would still be online e-books available and online methods for children to do things such as watch teachers explain or demonstrate things online, and ask teachers questions and respond to things said by other children; children could even interview people in a field they were interested in. All sorts of educational opportunities would become apparent if our society were truly devoted to making education successful despite the pandemic. We would do fine!
Children in the outback of Australia live too far away from each other to make it possible for them to attend a traditional school. Instead they attend the "School of the Air"--an online (formerly on-radio) school. Read this 1996 report in the Los Angeles Times about the School of the Air:
"The School of the Air students 'come out well on top of the state average' on the New South Wales basic school tests, administrator Geoff Brown says."
Keeping our schools closed until it is really safe--for the children and their parents and the teachers and everybody else--to open them is not a bad idea at all, unless one's concerns are the selfish ones that our current rulers have.
Please read "The ridiculousness of learning loss" for more on this.
There is a possibly relevant article in the New York Times titled, "Schools Beat Earlier Plagues With Outdoor Classes. We Should Too. A century ago children in New York City attended classes [outdoors] during a pandemic. It seemed to work." The pandemic was the "Spanish Flu," which differed in a very important respect from covid-19; in the former case people were not infectious before having symptoms whereas in the latter case asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people are infectious. No doubt in NYC a century ago any child or adult with "Spanish Flu" symptoms would not have been allowed to attend even the outdoor school. It's not clear how dangerous outdoor schools would be during the covid-19 pandemic. Instead of stupidly (and selfishly) demanding that the schools be opened without letting "the science stand in the way," we should find out scientifically how safe outdoor schooling might be. Even if we used outdoor schooling, that would not, properly speaking, amount to "opening the schools" since the school buildings would remain closed for all practical purposes.
* This is already starting to happen, apparently, as described in an article titled, "American parents are setting up homeschool 'pandemic pods.'" There are two points I'd like to make about this development. First, it demonstrates how parents are capable of being very creative in figuring out how to ensure that their children continue to be educated despite the obstacles imposed by a pandemic. Second, as this article itself mentions, it is much easier for wealthier parents to create 'pandemic pods' for their children than it is for poorer parents. In our "some rich and some poor" society based on class inequality, 'pandemic pods' will thus be available mainly to the wealthier families and not the poorer ones, and this will inevitably increase the already existing gap between the quality of education for wealthy versus poor people. The moral of this story is that we should build the egalitarian revolutionary movement to abolish class inequality!