This widely shared letter you may have seen in Harpers argues that we must be open to reasoned debate for democracy to succeed.  These days, you can lose your job merely for running an op-ed you and your readers don’t agree with.  God forbid the other side, wrong though we’re sure they are, should be given an ear.

(Do Progressives Have a Free Speech Problem?  The illiberal left is a lot less threatening than the right. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.)

Way too much, we’re divided between the red team and the blue team.  Masks or no masks, hoax or no hoax . . . if the red team is for it, it must be bad.  If the blue team is for it, the red team must be against it.

Compromise?  Tea Party Republicans long ago made that a dirty word.


With that general preamble, let’s talk about the least-bad path forward on schools, and how poorly — I think — the discussion has been conducted.

Which requires this specific preamble: We should never have been in this horrible place,  It would not have happened if the CDC’s forward-deployed China team had not been neutered in 2018 . . . a dozen urgent warnings in the Presidential Daily Brief had not been ignored.

But here’s where we are.  So.

Start with this:  NBC Nightly News asked five pediatricians if they would let their own kids go back to school.  As you will see — from where the clip starts, it will take you only 3 and a half minutes — all five gave an unequivocal yes.

That doesn’t end the discussion, of course; but it seems to me it should open minds to having the discussion.

One friend believes the discussion should be framed this way:


We need to be very clear that healthy kids are not at risk with COVID. All the data shows that. School closings are not about protecting kids. Rather, this is a massive sacrifice we are asking kids to make to protect adults.


Which leads to the question of how “effective” kids are at infecting adults — with evidence mounting that, no, actually, it almost always works the other way: kids, to the extent they get it, get it from adult family members.  [UPDATE: But not so fast, warns an important new study reported in the Times as I was first posting this.]


Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about opening schools:


. . . With the above principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.

. . . [t]he preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents . . . may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home. . . .


That word — balanced — is what is generally lacking in the discussion.

One of my pen pals, Stephen P., sends me stuff all the time to show me how heartless and reckless I’ve been suggesting we open schools for young healthy kids, teachers, and staff.

E.g., this, from CNN:

Three Arizona teachers who shared a classroom got coronavirus. One of them died.”

This is horrible, of course, and you may well have heard about it yourself, because it made every TV news cast I saw.

The teacher who died was wonderful.  A great human being with love and joy written all over her face, who loved teaching and whose death is heartbreaking.

But only one of the many stories I saw about her mentioned that she was 61 “and also had asthma, diabetes and lupus.”

Arguably, no such person should have been allowed out of the house in the time of COVID.

(I say “arguably” because I’m not certain whether people at high risk, knowing the risk, should merely be strongly discouraged from taking the risk — that much for sure — or outright forbidden.)


Stephen P. the next day, also from CNN: “New York Times: Internal CDC documents warn full reopening of schools is ‘highest risk’ for coronavirus spread.  Duh.”

To him, that headline said it all.  (Hence his, “duh.”)  Yet way at the very end, that story says: “The current guidelines, last updated in May, say the ‘lowest risk’ setting for Covid-19 spread is virtual-only learning options, while listing full-sized, in-person classes that lack social distancing as the ‘highest risk’ setting.”

The CDC isn’t saying, “the highest-risk thing America can do right now is reopen the schools” as Stephen’s email implied.  It’s simply saying that if you’re looking at the risk of kids getting infected in school, the lowest-risk option is to not let them go to school.  The highest risk option is letting them go with no precautions of any kind.

“Duh,” indeed.

It’s like driving.  There is a range of options.  The lowest risk of traffic and pedestrian injury and death is not to allow it.  The highest risk is to allow driving with no seat belts, no speed limits, no traffic lights, no airbags, no highway patrol, no limits on alcohol consumption, no licensing requirements.

What we need to do is not scare each other with headlines about a truly wonderful Arizona teacher dying (not mentioning that she was 61 suffering from asthma, diabetes, and Lupus) . . . or a beautiful, innocent 11-year-old boy (not mentioning that out of 40 or 50 million school age kids, 14 have died of COVID, and that particular one had recently undergone a kidney transplant) . . .

. . . but, rather, find a balance that protects people like those two precious people, while not keeping all 50 million kids and all young healthy teachers and school staff locked up at home.  Because that has enormous tragic costs to kids, too.


Stephen P. the day after that: the “not my child” video that makes the undisputed point that a mother’s love for her child is the most powerful, beautiful, important thing in the world.

Yet — to me — doesn’t come remotely close to making the case that, as a result, 40 or 50 million healthy kids  should be forced to stay home.

Or that . . . at a time of national crisis . . . healthy young-ish teachers should be forced to stay home as well.

(Is “teaching” not as “essential” a job as meatpacking?  Especially when you consider that it’s cheaper, healthier, and better for the planet, not to eat meat?)

The peculiar nature of this awful disease is that, with the rarest of exceptions, it spares young healthy people.

If there were no COSTS to keeping everyone quarantined for a year or two or three, then of COURSE we should!

Indeed, we should shut down the ENTIRE WORLD to save one life, if there were no cost to shutting down the entire world.

But that kind of statement doesn’t strike me as useful in making the best of the awful situation Trump’s negligent sociopathy has put us in.


Stephen P. yesterday:  a cartoon of families at the beach, a dorsal fin in the distance, captioned: “It’s time to get kids back in the water.  Only 1% of them will be eaten.

This would be so powerful if it were true!

Oh. . .  my . . . God!!!!!!!!

Case closed!  (Or, “duh” as Stephen would say.)

But according to the CDC, since the pandemic began, regular old flu has killed three times as many children aged 5-14 in the U.S. as COVID (which has killed 14).  Pneumonia, nine times as many.

Kids like these fourteen — most or all with serious underlying health issues — should be protected at any reasonable cost.  But keeping the other 40 million home is not, on balance, the the best way to do it.

By forwarding a cartoon like that, I think Stephen was (unintentionally of course!) hurting tens of millions more kids than he was helping.


A data point: In Sweden, zero kids have died of COVID, even with schools never having closed.


I say again.  Until there’s a vaccine and/or a cure, no school staff should be required to go back to work – they should be kept on the payroll to help with tele-teaching the kids whose parents are at risk, or to help with after-school tele-tutoring.

Staff who are older or suffering from diabetes, asthma, etc., should be actively discouraged from coming back to work – perhaps even forbidden (though I’m not sure about that).

It’s tempting to say, “If we can save one teacher’s life by shutting down all the world‘s the schools for a year, it will have been worth it.”

But does that really make sense?  If not, then it becomes a question of where one reasonably draws the line, as one tries to come up with the least-bad trade-offs.

And never forget none of this had to happen.

Any more than the war in Iraq had to happen.

It matters who’s in charge.

Competence, decency, and judgment matter.

 

 

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