Discussions about sending children back to school in the autumn have reached their fever pitch.
Apparently, according to some Trumpublikkkans it is 100% OK to send children back to school this autumn. Trump is threatening to withhold Federal funding from districts that don’t return and is pressuring the CDC to change it’s re-open criteria since he believes it’s too expensive and difficult to follow.
OK, I will give Trump that. He is correct.
The CDC criteria is difficult.
It is going to require students who otherwise find the rigors of structured teaching-to-the-test challenging to also figure out how to safely distance, and wear a mask throughout the day, and wash their hands in bathrooms that usually don’t even have soap and might not always have hot water.
It’s going to be difficult to get custodial staff to deep clean everything nightly when they are rarely given enough cleaning supplies in the first place.
It’s going to be difficult for teachers, administrators and staff to manage their work life and their home lives now being forced to the front line. When budgets are usually so tight they have to supply themselves and students with basic needs, forget about anything above and beyond to deal with the virus. When time off during the educational year is difficult to come by to begin with and now needs to be balanced for covid too.
And, supplying PPE, cleaning supplies and alternative equal education to those who cannot attend is not going to be cheep either.
But, changing the criteria to be even weaker and threatening holding back needed funds is not going to make the situation better. It is going to make it worse!
So, why then are we going back?
Students as a political football. Full stop.
To the Trumpublikkkan rational the only important thing is restarting the economy. OK, so it’s not just the modern GOP, there’s some crazy centrists like DeBlasio on the Democratic side who are focused solely on getting parents back to work.
Not to point out the obvious, but sick people aren’t productive to the broader economy and dead ones are definitely not.
Education is not synonymous with daycare and opening schools needs to be treated as more than just a way for parents to get back to work otherwise we are doing a disservice to the students as well as everyone that interacts with them and potentially prolonging the pandemic related issues overall.
The underlying premise to this notion of having to re-open schools is that children are less likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 and so far there has not been an established link between children and transmission.
There are a number of issues with this premise.
First and foremost is that children are the least tested group. So we don’t know how many have been exposed to it, and as such we don’t know the true infection rate. That’s because initially only those people with symptoms or had known direct contact with the disease were being tested and most of those with bad symptoms were adults. And, adults made up the highest number of individuals with unique exposure points, like having foreign travel. Then, it expanded as testing materials became more available to include anyone who had potential exposure through a range of known activities, most of which were identified as being workplace related, thus focusing on adults or had a known, underlying health condition who were most likely to also be adults at the time. Most recently to anyone over 18 who wanted one in an area where outbreaks were in the process of occurring should have been able to get a test (although with the merry-go-round of opening and closing testing facilities, backlogging issues at labs, and so on it’s not like a test is still a guarantee).
What this means is the sample set is heavily biased to begin with and an important part of that bias lies in the inability to get children tested in general. Many local and State health boards had already said this was an issue previously and the CDC restated it again recently.
Thus, making assumptions on a flawed data set is problematic, at best. We don’t know the actual childhood infection rate. And, thus we don’t know the childhood hospitalization and death rates either. We do know however, that although the raw numbers are lower, they are NOT zero. Children DO incur bad cases that end up hospitalized and they do die. For all those pro-lifers, and all those all loves matter to ignore this is mind-boggling to me as one would think protecting every innocent child at all costs would be their first-and-foremost priority and yet they aren’t the ones leading the protest against reckless openings.
In early outbreak areas throughout New York and New Jersey, as well as internationally, particularly in hard hit areas like Italy, England and Spain, there were clusters of under-18 hospitalizations and deaths by positive test patients. Although they are a small fraction of the known deaths in those areas (somewhere between 1-3% of total attributed deaths depending on the source data) they are still deaths. If we quickly look at the other top ten causes of death according to the CDC and average the under-18 mortality rate across them, the Covid rate works out to be in-line or higher than the normal under-18 mortality rate, meaning kids are dying of covid similar to how they would die from other typical things they could die from.
If we take into account some of the “underlying conditions” that are supposed to make the disease more deadly for adults and look at the breakdowns for children, especially middle and high school youths, you find that respiratory system issues (especially asthema), autoimmune issues, obesity where it affects cardiopulmonary function, and more are quite common (at least at similar rates to corresponding adults). So, it stands to reason that if these issues are problematic in relation to the disease in general that should carry over to kids. And, many, if not most of these issues are in full or at least in part hereditary or influenced by the environment, and not “personal choices” kids make in having a underlying condition as a child. No kid, just like not adult, asks to be born with a predisposition to cardiopulmonary problems or get asthema so let’s dispel this notion that having an underlying condition is somehow the person’s fault.
We don’t know about the affects of post-illness trauma either. This is important
What’s more is it is not just the direct effects of Covid-19 that children might need to be watched for. Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome Temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS), Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and a number of other still being studied autoimmune responses to Covid-19 exist and children exposed to Covid are suffering or dead because of it.
Nevermind, we still don’t know the long term effects of exposure to Covid-19 for anyone. Early studies suggest there could be longer term-to-potentially permanent lung damage even to those who were asymptomatic when reviewing lung CTs, blood saturation levels, and other markers. Another set of studies reviewing the cardiocerebral effects of the disease suggest that not only symptomatic patience can experience strokes and other degeneration of the CNS but that there can be asymptomatic damage to otherwise healthy individuals including children. This, of course will require additional peer-reviewed work to further validate at what rate this actually occurs but the early data is more than just passively suggestive that post-infection issues can be a lasting concern, thus making this much more than just about death, or even immediate hospitalization.
Finally, and most importantly, we don’t know if and how children are vectors for the disease, particularly asymptomatically.
There’s a lot of assumptions being made that children are not vectors and that’s just not supported by the data yet. When reviewing the limited data that is available for adults asymptomatic spread is uneven, at best, but more often than not appears to point to very strong correlation between individuals who appeared to be at the time asymptomatic at the time of spread but became at least somewhat symptomatic later. Because the infection-to-symptom window can range between 7 and 20 days (14 seems to still be the generally accepted target) there’s a lot of asymptomatic time someone could be a vector. If and when symptoms, even minimal-to-mild occur, the window continues to remain open, so someone appearing to be effectively asymptomatic because their symptoms are un-or-miss diagnosed could still be a vector. This window is a bit more uneven because of the nature of the disease, making assumptions on how long someone is potentially a spreader anywhere from three to thirty days depending on what seems like both the individual and the ability of the medical community to effective track these cases (meaning the data set is skewed anyhow).
And, that’s part of the point, the data is vastly incomplete, especially for asymptomatic vectors. Contact Tracing in other countries is much more accurate than the US because of how difficult it is to get Americans to cooperate. One needs only look at the Rockland NY “infection party” and Michigan Harper’s Restaurant situations are two recent examples of incomplete contact tracing creating excessively incomplete data sets for understanding how the disease effectively spreads. If we don’t have a good grasp on it for adults, and we have more data for adults, then it’s nearly impossible to make such an assumption for children where the data is even more incomplete.
Anecdotally, supporters of reopening will point to schools that were slow in closing having low infection rates. However, it’s very important to remember testing was excessively difficult to come by in those heavy outbreak areas in the spring so there’s not really a lot known about the real rate itself. However, for example, the NYC DOE experienced nearly 100 deaths within teachers and support staff during that time and there were several outbreaks in buildings where students ended up in the hospitals. These were overshadowed by the massive death tolls affecting parts of Queens and in elder care facilities which became headlines. Texas, North Carolina and Oregon all had childcare center outbreaks that infected students, works and families as the infection numbers also climbed in those states through their “re-openings.” Several summer schools in the south reported isolated incidents with students and staff before the recent uptick in caseloads as well.
And, that’s getting to some of the point:
Sending children back to school creates touch-points for others in the community since schools aren’t just make up of children.
Schools, of course, include teachers. Did you know the average age of a teacher in the United States is over 40? In no state is it under 40 but several are pushing 50 according to a recent NCES study and other research done by the NYTimes. This puts teachers in the at-risk threshold for the disease just by average age without taking into account any other conditions for themselves. If the average teacher is similar to the average adult population it also means that somewhere around one in five also probably have some other pre-existing condition that can make them more susceptible.
Schools, of course, also include classroom aides and related in-school professions for IEP, ELL, and a wide range of other educational and classroom support needs. The numbers are a bit more difficult to come by, but from some union materials the average age of these professionals is also around 40. It’s not as well broken down by jurisdiction but the data seems to suggest a similar spread to traditional teachers.
Schools also include administrators. And, as I’m sure you can deduce based on the above that the average age is closer to 50 nationally with, again, no state, averaging below 40.
Schools require a wide range of daytime support staff. Nurses, Law Enforcement, Cafeteria staff, that are part of day-to-day operations with close contact with the children, plus janitorial staff, grounds keepers, building engineers and others that help keep the physical properties prepared. And, that’s not even getting into transportation, after-school programs, sports and clubs and the rest of the touch-points in which care of students occurs from the time a parent drops off till they pick up. Bet you could’t guess within the available limited data what the average ages of these workers are? Yep, right around that 40-50 range again as I tallied up the plethora of different resources I found, although, I’ll admit the data is sparse and inconsistent, it does “feel” right based on experience.
This is no longer just about how students potentially infect one another.
It’s about how students potentially infect the people charged with caring for them.
It’s about how the students might infect their own loved ones and bring the disease back into their own communities.
It’s about how the people charged with caring for them might infect students.
It’s about how the people charged with caring for them might infect one another.
It’s about how the people charged with caring for them might infect their own loved ones and bring the disease back into their own communities.
And, those last points are immensely underrated and overlooked.
Teachers and the rest of school staffs have families. An outbreak has a cascade effect that isn’t just isolated to what occurs within the student population. It is going to be felt with the teachers, the support staff, the admins, the janitors and all of their families and all of their communities. And, ALL of these people deserve to have their voices heard in this. They NEED their requirements met in order to do their jobs safely and effectively.
Any outbreak that occurs would put schools in an immediate position to close in order to protect the rest of the staff and community.
Consider how schools and daycares are already considered outbreak centers for varicella-zoster virus, influenza A H-series, and others all of which typically do have both vaccines and have established Hospice or Therapeutic Treatments that not only affect students but are easily spread among staff and it’s easy to see how Covid if un-prevented could also use schools, in general, as a vector.
What’s worse, then, I ask — bouncing kids between in-person learning and home-schooling as outbreaks inevitably flair up or giving kids some sense of continuity that will likely last through this coming school year if not into the next based on known anti-virus abilities in both medical immunization and rolling herd immunity?
Especially since children are not stupid. They are going to eventually learn why a family member, or a teacher, or someone else they cared for in the system got sick or died. Probably sooner rather than later since the facts cannot be hidden at scale. And, then what? Are we going to socially, at-scale, deal with mass educator-related illness and death?
If you believe that having kids at home struggling with their educations is bad, what’s it going to be like to explain to them why their favorite teacher isn’t coming back. Considering how poorly time off by teachers is handled systemically for pregnancy and bereavement there is no way the system is prepared for outbreak related illness or death within educator ranks. Budgets are already being cut eliminating necessary social workers, and substitute teachers, and related support staff, so when teachers and others involved in the schools that are reopened inevitably get sick and potentially die the system will be ill equipped to handle that. It’s going to be several times worse at dealing with childhood illness and death too.
We are doing a great disservice to our students by forcing them back before the system is ready, willing and able to handle them. Not only for their own health but for the health and well being of those who are charged with babysitting, errr, sorry, educating them.
I don’t have an answer (well, I might, but it’s a completely separate post) but anyone supporting DeVos, or Trump, or anyone else prioritizing school openings as a way to get parents back to work and the economy functional again, and not actively providing ample financial offsets to the system in the way of increased health care access for every touchpoint, increased technology to support every variation of testing, better conditions for students AND staff on and hopefully off caumpus and more all I want to say is Fuck You.
My padawan deserve better than the shit situation you want to force them into ad younglings. My partner as and educator deserves better. I fucking deserve better as a parent who works too.
What I’ve been listening to:
I wanted to do a school and education playlist here, but the only thing that resonates in my mind is New Edition’s S-C-H-O-O-L You got to go to school and beat that bell that I used to sing to my own padawan in their hurry up dancing to the car.
Instead I listened to Tears for Fears, 80s synth Rush and Genesis (by the way, Phil Collins I’m calling bullshit with “My generation will put it right. We’re not just making promises that we know, we’ll never keep.”) and Madonna.
The padawan has taken a shine to Living Colour (Cult of Personality and Times Up are literal show stoppers here: everyone instantly moshes hard. Gotta start somewhere) and Run DMC (Mary Mary, Walk this Way and a fan lyric version of Proud to be Black)
What I ate:
We got a load of out-of-the-ground beets the other day. They were dirty as fuck mud on the floor everywhere. And, we didn’t even order them…
I cut the stems and leaves off and cleaned them with our veggie spray, warm water and a lot of vigorous gimme good bitter leaves angst.
The stems I mostly set aside in hopes I could sneak them in with celery for the occasional ants on a log peanut butter with raisins fiasco but also because they are good when fresh in an even better than celery way of crispy is.
All the leaves I julienned. I took some mixed lettuce we had and spread it in (3 or maybe 4:1 beet greens to field mix) and hit the entire thing with a quick dash of Old Bay seasoning and rice wine vinegar (this all helps give a breakdown to the tougher so called bitter leaves of the beets)
I diced the beet stems with celery. Put together a mix of roasted sunflower and roasted pumpkin seeds. Toasted up some local sourdough we got at the farmers market and diced it into croutons and some local seitan bacon i crisped up on the skillet.
Finally, tossed the entire thing with a local made blue cheese and Grey Poupon dijon mustard. You’re probably saying WTF dude, don’t you hate blue cheese. Yes, I do. In this context finished with fresh cracked pepper and romano cheese it’s fantastic at balancing the wild flavors abound