Risky Business was a 1983 teen movie about a young man left home alone and trying to figure out what to do with his time. Things get out of hand and he ends up trying to get on top of a situation that is out-of-control. (Parental alert: it is an R-rated movie.)
While there are few parallels between the movie and Covid-19 impacted schools, the title fits. Reopening schools is a risky business as community spread accelerates, the positivity rate for tests climbs, and increasing knowledge about how the virus acts to infect and then damage bodies even for children, teens, and young adults tells us that the risk of the virus is not limited to death.
What follows is a summary of information gleaned from days of reading reports, listening to broadcasts, and monitoring stats. While normal blogger practice provides embedded links in a post, perhaps in an attempt to establish pseudo-journalism status, which is not really practical as links to secondary sources do not qualify as quality journalism, this post will not include them. Partly because Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hasn’t kept track and partly because GOT encourages you to search and read widely as well.
ONE: Covid-19 is not a respiratory disease. While its most obvious effects show up in breathing difficulty from pneumonia complications, Covid-19 attacks all the major organs in the body: heart, brain, kidneys, spleen, liver, etc.
This explains odd symptoms like loss of taste and smell as the virus infects the brain. Strokes and cardiac problems have resulted from Covid-19 causing blood clots as well as kidney failure.
The idea that Covid-19 only affects older people, in particular, those older than 65 is not true. Anyone who catches it at any age runs the risk of surviving with life-long health problems that have the chance of shortening their life as well as impacting their quality of life.
We cannot say children are safe returning to school because even if they catch it and have symptoms, it will be a mild sickness and they soon will recover. A Covid-19 infection may condemn a child to a lifetime of illness.
TWO: The coronavirus has different characteristics than influenza virus. It is much smaller than influenza, which is why it tends to linger as an airborne virus than fall onto nearby surfaces. The risk of infection from touching a surface and then one’s face is low; the risk of infection from breathing virus-laden air is high.
To reopen schools, mitigation is crucial. While continual cleaning of commonly-touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, desks, and books is helpful, what really counts is to stop airborne transmission.
This requires the wearing of facial coverings, either masks or shields, plexiglass barriers where appropriate, good ventilation in indoor spaces with outside air–it may be hot, Florida, but open those classroom windows–eating outside, not in classrooms, physically distancing as possible but! with the awareness that a virus that lingers in the air will move much farther than six feet. By the way, buses transporting children should also do so with the windows open. A little sweat is an acceptable trade-off for remaining healthy.
THREE: The community spread of the virus has resumed exponential characteristics. Every day, new records for identified cases, percent positive for conducted tests, and now, hospitalization rates are occurring.
We flattened the curve and then let it rebend.
Study the data. Although sources vary as to exact counts, all data dashboards are approximately the same. Florida has 210,000 identified cases, 16,000 hospitalizations, and 3,800 deaths.
Forget all the rates you’ve been quoted. 16,000 divided by 210,000 means that 7.6% of people who test positive have wound up in the hospital. 3,800 divided by 16,000 means that 24% of people who are hospitalized die. One out of every four persons whose case is severe enough to require hospitalization die. 3,800 divided by 210,000 means that the death rate is 1.8%.
FOUR: Mitigation of risk requires the cooperation of all. The behavior we have seen so far–refusal to wear masks, gathering in large groups, not maintaining physical distance–combined with the normal behavior schools see–sending sick children to school because parents have to go to work, reluctance to visit a urgent care center from lack of insurance with which to pay, etc.–means that the measures schools take to limit attendance by sick children will be difficult for school personnel to maintain their effectiveness.
We have not licked the coronavirus. What we are learning comes down to this–
Reopening schools is a risky business. Very risky, indeed.