“We have learned that two High School students, two High School staff members, three Middle School students, six Elementary students and one Elementary staff member have tested positive for COVID-19. Close contacts have been identified and notified. Thank you.”
What does it all mean?
One thing’s for sure – we aren’t taking this pandemic very seriously.
Judging by the emails in the last week and a half, alone, there have been at least 60 people in my small western Pennsylvania district who tested positive for Covid. That’s 17 in the high school (10 students and 7 staff), 22 in the middle school (17 students and 5 staff), and 21 in the elementary schools (16 students and 5 staff). And this doesn’t include close contacts.
However, with the new CDC guidelines that people who test positive only need to quarantine for 5 days, some of these people are probably back at school already. Though it is almost certain they will be replaced by more people testing positive today.
I have a student who just came back a day ago who’s coughing and sneezing in the back of the room with no mask. And there’s not a thing I can do – except spray Lysol all over his seating area once he leaves.
My daughter’s school has been open for seven days so far this year.
The school where I teach has been open three days.
Masks optional at both.
Do you know how terrifying that is for a father – to send his only child off to class hoping she’ll be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t get sick?
Do you know how frustrating it is for an educator like me trying to teach while unsure how long your students will be well enough to stay in class? Unsure how long you will?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns we should wear masks in school to protect from Covid-19, especially the more virulent delta variant.
So does the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Nationwide Children’s Hospitals Care Connection, the Allegheny County Department of Health…
And just about every doctor, immunologist and specialist at UPMC as well as the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Another failure of voters to turn out and support one of the few people with the courage to protect our children.
However, May’s referendum did not affect the Wolf administration’s ability to implement a masking order or other public-health rules under the state’s disease-control law. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has the authority to issue a statewide mask order for K-12 schools under a state law that empowers the department to take appropriate measures to protect the public from infectious diseases.
To his credit, Wolf tried to work with the legislature to get this done.
He asked the Republican-controlled state House and Senate to come back in session and vote on the matter. But since they prefer politics to safeguarding children they refused.
We are fortunate to have at least one adult in Harrisburg – and he lives in the Governor’s mansion.
As many other states have done, we need to require all school employees to get the Covid vaccine or provide proof of regular negative COVID tests just to enter educational buildings.
Right now children younger than 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated. We need to require those young people who are eligible to get the vaccine or provide them with an alternative like remote learning. And when the vaccine has been cleared for all children, we need to add it to the long list of other vaccines children already need to get to enter school.
We need an influx of funding to make it possible to keep kids in school and still keep them socially distanced. As it is now, this is nearly impossible – I speak from experience.
The school where I teach has hardly any social distancing, and frankly we can’t have in-person school without more classrooms, more teachers, more space.
We need to bring back cleaning protocols to make sure every classroom is properly disinfected between periods. We need to ensure that school buildings are properly ventilated.
Will this be expensive? Probably, but if we could waste $300 million a day for two decades in Afghanistan that resulted in NOTHING, we can afford to properly fund our schools for once!
But most of all, we have to come to an understanding – the pandemic is not over – and it will not be over until enough of the general population is vaccinated.
Are you frustrated by masks? Are you frustrated we have to keep going back to these safety precautions?
The pandemic is not over – not in Pennsylvania. Covid-19 cases are on the rise in my community and an increasing number of children have gotten sick, been hospitalized or died.
Forgoing masks would risk more. It’s just not worth it.
Only a month ago child Covid cases numbered in the zeroes or low single-digits each day in my home of Allegheny County, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. During the past two weeks there have been as many as 30 to 40 new child cases a day.
Some of these are kids 11 and younger who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Some are those 12 and older who have not been vaccinated. And a few are break-through cases among vaccinated kids, said Dr. Andrew Nowalk, clinical director of infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are recommending everyone in schools – students, staff, visitors, etc. – wear masks whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
As a school director, why would you take a chance with the children in your care?
Dr. Todd Wolynn, CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics, an independent pediatrics practice with several locations in the region, put it this way:
“We’re here to ask one question to school districts not doing universal masking: Why is your situation safer [without a mask mandate] than what is recommended by the AAP and the CDC?”
Why is it safer to forgo this precaution?
Wearing a mask is not all that hard. We all did it throughout most of the last year and a half.
Why is it so hard to just continue doing it a little while longer?
I asked a similar question of Bryan Macuga, Assistant Superintendent of Steel Valley School District where I work.
He mentioned at a district wide meeting that the new health and safety plan approved by the school board makes masks optional this year. I asked him why.
He refused to give me an answer. He simply said that’s what’s been decided and would say no more.
Superintendent Ed Wehrer was there at the meeting wearing a mask to – as he put it – “model” that behavior. Wehrer said he was empowered by the school board to mandate masks if it became necessary. He hasn’t done so nor did he find it necessary to answer my question, either.
I can’t imagine it.
If these leaders really think it is better not to mandate masks, why not explain their reasoning. We may agree or disagree with them, but they can’t even show us the courtesy of a straight answer to a fair question.
Whatever their reasoning, most Allegheny County school directors must disagree with it.
The majority of the county’s 43 school districts – 70% – have mandated masks in their schools. It’s heartening to see so many school leaders putting children over politics this way. I just wish I lived and worked in one of their communities.
Only 13 county districts are making masks optional and most of those are clustered on the southeastern border with more rural (and Republican) Westmoreland County.
I don’t understand how ideology makes people risk the lives of their own kids.
Throughout the rest of the state, the situation seems even worse.
Pennsylvania has 500 school districts. Of 474 that submitted health and safety plans by July, only 59 reported plans to mandate masks for the 2021-22 year. This number is certainly higher now as districts changed their plans based on increases in Covid cases through August. But the situation is still incredibly frustrating.
My 12-year-old daughter just had a nightmare, and I was sitting on her bed trying to calm her down.
“What’s wrong, Sweetie?”
“I’m worried about school.”
That’s something with which I can certainly relate.
Even after teaching for 18 years, I always get anxious before the first day of school, and I told her as much.
“Really?” She said.
“Yeah. But I can understand why you might be even more nervous than usual. I’ll be teaching the same thing I’ve taught for years. I’ll be in the same classroom working with the same adults. Only the students will be different. But you will be in a new building with new teachers…. And you haven’t even been in a classroom in over a year.”
“That’s just it, Daddy. What if the other kids make fun of me for wearing a mask? What if I get sick?”
Our local district is reopening in a week with a mask optional policy and no vaccine requirements.
Her question was expected, but I had been dreading it.
I knew my answers and they sounded inadequate – even to me.
I explained how she would be wearing a mask and is fully vaccinated so it will be extremely unlikely for her to get sick. And even if she does, it will be extremely unlikely she’ll get VERY sick.
“And if the other kids make fun of you, just ignore it. You are going to be safe. If they take chances, they’ll just have to suffer the consequences.”
It seemed to satisfy her, but I left her room feeling like a bad parent.
Even in the Pittsburgh region where we live, the number of kids hospitalized with Covid at UPMC Children’s Hospital has nearly doubled in the last week, according to KDKA. That’s 50 hospitalizations in the past month including 20 in the last week.
When you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s not much of an option.
I just don’t understand it.
Don’t my daughter and I have rights?
We hear a lot about the anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers. A lot about their rights. What about our right to safe schools?
Why is it that the right NOT to wear a mask supersedes the right to go to a school where everyone is required to wear one?
Because it isn’t – as I told my daughter – a matter of everyone having to deal with just the consequences of their own actions. My daughter and I have to deal with the consequences of everyone else’s actions, too.
Or to put it another way – if one person pees in the pool, we’re all swimming in their urine.
If someone else doesn’t wear a mask, hasn’t been vaccinated and hasn’t taken the proper precautions, they can spread the Covid-19 virus through the air and infect whole classrooms of people.
Everyone else could be wearing a mask. It just takes one person who isn’t.
Is it fair that everyone else has to pay the price for one person’s carelessness?
We talk about rights so much we seem to have lost entirely the idea of responsibilities. They go hand-in-hand.
Yes, you have the freedom to do whatever you like so long as it doesn’t hurt another person.
When your actions do hurt others, you have a responsibility to stop. And if you won’t do that, the government has a responsibility to stop you.
But in this anti-intellectual age, we’ve almost completely given up on that idea.
If people take precautions by masking up and getting vaccinated, the worst that will happen is they’ll be unduly inconvenienced. If my daughter and I are forced to exist in the same spaces with people not taking the proper precautions, we could get sick and die.
It’s not like we’re talking about two equal sides here. This is people who believe the overwhelming scientific majority vs. those who get their answers from YouTube videos and political figures. It’s doctors, researchers and immunologists vs. conspiracy theorists, internet trolls and the MyPillow guy.
I’m not even judging – believe what you like so long as it affects only you. But when it affects me, too, then we have a problem.
The lowest common denominator is allowed to run wild. They can do whatever they like and the rest of us just have to put up with it.
That’s why we’re beginning year two and a half of a global pandemic! Not enough of us got the vaccine by the end of the summer.
Now infections are rising and few policy makers have the courage to take a stand and protect those of us who took precautions from those of us who did not.
And don’t tell me our lawmakers don’t have the power. There is a mountain of precedent showing they have.
On the highway, you can’t just go wherever you want, whenever you want. There are lanes, speed limits, traffic lights.
Even vaccines! To enroll in Kindergarten, parents already have to prove their kids have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and a host of other diseases. Why is Covid-19 any different?
Public safety is a PUBLIC issue not a private one.
It just makes me feel so helpless.
I can’t do anything to protect my students.
I can’t do anything to protect myself.
I can’t do anything to protect my baby girl.
And I can’t wait for the school year to start!
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When I got to the McKeesport School Board meeting last evening, I was relieved to see a vote to follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Pennsylvania and Allegheny County Health Department mandates about wearing masks in schools.
“Finally,” I thought. “The board is doing something sensible to keep our kids safe from Covid-19.”
Later I found out this motion didn’t mean what I thought it meant.
The district wasn’t mandating masks to protect kids during a global pandemic. It was vowing to follow any mandates put forth by higher authorities IF such mandates were passed.
In the meantime – in the absence of such mandates – the district passed a health and safety plan where masks would be entirely optional for students and staff.
The motion was approved 6-3, with only Mindy Sturgess, James Brown and Steve Kondrosky voting against it. Joe Lopretto, Diane Elias, Dave Donato, Tom Filotei, Ivan Hampton, and Jim Poston voted in favor.
I spoke to the board before the vote, during the public comment section, asking them to BOTH mandate masks and require eligible students and staff to be vaccinated.
Here are my comments in full:
“Thank you for allowing me to speak today.
Being a school director is a hard job. You give up time with friends and family every month to consider what’s best for the community’s children.
It’s especially hard during Covid-19. Decisions concerning public health should be made by the President, the Governor and – honestly – scores of people before it gets to you. But during this global pandemic, the big dogs have continually passed the buck on down the line until it was on your desks.
You may all be nice people, but you aren’t experts on immunology or public safety. Nor do you have ready access to those experts.
But you are tasked with making decisions that directly impact the health and safety of district students and staff. You have an OBLIGATION to safeguard every child and adult.
So what is the best way to reopen schools this year?
Don’t ask me. I’m not an expert, either.
But I have heard from those experts.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all schools mandate masking and require vaccinations for all people 12 and older. The US Department of Education recommends the same. As does the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a host of other organizations in prime positions to know what is best.
You have an obligation to listen to them.
Only 63% of Pennsylvanian adults are vaccinated against Covid-19.
Less than 30% of Americans ages 12 to 15, and only 41% of Americans 16 to 17 are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. And since they are not eligible yet, all children 11 and younger are not vaccinated.
This means our kids are in danger of catching this virus. Every elementary student and many in middle school are completely unvaccinated. And a good percentage of those older.
That’s not just Texas and Florida. That’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, too.
According to KDKA, the number of kids hospitalized with Covid at UPMC Children’s Hospital has nearly doubled in the last week.
That’s 50 hospitalizations in the past month including 20 in the last week.
“The only way to protect these younger children under 12 is for those of us over 12 to get vaccinated and wear masks,” said Dr. John Williams, UPMC Chief of Infectious Diseases.
“The decisions that those who are leading our schools’ policies, I want them to think about masking and distancing together as possibilities for keeping people safe,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC medical Director of Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology.
Don’t listen to me.
Listen to these people.
Mandate masks in McKeesport Area School District (MASD). It is not difficult. You did it last year. You can do it this year, no problem.
It is absolutely the LEAST you can do.
You should also mandate that all people 12 and older in district buildings be vaccinated and submit proof of vaccination.
If they refuse, you have remote options available.
Please put your politics and pride aside. This is not about which school district is tougher or proving a point about your independence and autonomy.
This is about keeping children safe.
Please do the right thing. Mandate masks and vaccinations at MASD.
When I was done, there was absolutely zero response.
They just went on with the meeting.
Every other person who spoke during public comments got some kind of response. For me – nothing.
I was still under the impression that the board was going to vote in favor of a mask mandate. I thought I had been too hard on them even bringing it up.
The issue was finally addressed when the health and safety plan came up for a vote. Board member Sturgess asked Superintendent Dr. Mark Holtzman to address the issues and my comments.
It lead to the following interaction between Holtman and Sturgess before the vote:
Holtzman: “We will continue mitigation strategies, social distancing, managing the way in which children transition into the building, the way they eat lunch, things of that nature. It is recommended in the plan that masks are highly recommended for staff and students but they are optional so it’s the family’s choice, the students choice to wear a mask if they so choose, and if a mandate comes down from the Allegheny County Health Director then obviously we’d have to shift gears at that point. Masks also must be worn on transportation. That is part of a mandate that exists – children riding school transportation must wear masks. Approximately half of Allegheny County Schools at this point are providing optional opportunities for staff and students to wear masks based on the needs of the community. We have not seen the numbers rise in Allegheny County yet above the substantial level. That may change or shift the mandate so at this particular point that’s what’s recommended so we will continue to provide hand sanitizer, one way hallways, forward facing children in the cafeteria, and do everything that we can to continue to socially distance children based on how many children are in the classroom.”
Sturgess: “[Director of Allegheny County Health Department] Dr. [Debra] Bogen did highly recommend masks. If masks are not required and we are not able to maintain social distancing what does a close contact look like? Are we going to be putting a lot more of our students and teachers in isolation without having a backup plan?”
Holtzman: “The CDC’s recommendation is 3 feet right now. We’re able to provide 3 feet between children in our classrooms whether they’re full or not. So that’s helpful. Also if children and staff are vaccinated, they do not have to quarantine. Also if children choose to wear a mask, they don’t have to quarantine. So the rules have shifted and changed a little bit. Because we’ve had the best practice of probably any school district in Pennsylvania. I think we’ll be able to manage. I think we may run into a problem where it does become a big deal, but now Allegheny County Health Department has decided that they are going to manage the contact tracing, and we know how that’s going to turn out. That’s overwhelming for them. At some point they’ve given up on some things.”
“The other thing is when you ask for vaccinations, you don’t have a right to ask for vaccinations so… if you ask for a vaccination and someone is dishonest with you there’s no way to prove that. They have a right to do how they see fit. So even our staff members we don’t have a document that says who’s vaccinated, who’s not, who ignored the round that was available at the AIU, who decided to do it over the summer. So there’s also lots of examples of people vaccinated that become ill anyway. I think we have a number of different equations and a number of different views. Dr. Debra Bogen is outstanding. Allegheny County Health Department is outstanding, and we’re going to continue to talk with them every Thursday in our superintendent group. They’re going to continue to guide us…”
Sturgess: “What was her recommendation last week?”
Holtzman: “Recommending masks. I think from her explanations of it, they don’t know enough. So there’s not enough studies or details but they will admit or say it’s not impacting children the way it impacts adults…”
Sturgess: “She kind of backtracked that a little bit… Something I like about this [health and safety plan] that we did not have last year is the opportunity for that synchronous live instruction for students who choose the virtual option. I know as an educator I’m much more comfortable with having that available to our students when we didn’t have that available last year… K through high school – there’s been some arrangement for that live instruction to occur.”
Holtzman: “I think one of the challenges we face was determining how much of a negative impact is the virus having on our children vs. the fact that they may have gaps in their education for the past two years. On-line experiences have not been very robust or meaningful even when you provide live instruction in synchronous learning… What’s more detrimental, the illness? Is it truly going to reach the level of hospitalizing children regularly and those types of things? Or is this something that can be overcome for a slight couple days? …Not having kids in school for two years – for most districts not McKeesport – has been more detrimental for most children. We were very fortunate that our children who did have the virus were not hospitalized. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to be that lucky but those are some of the things we have to consider.”
So they voted to make masks optional and do absolutely nothing about vaccinations.
In my opinion, it is a big mistake.
They are ignoring the recommendations of medical professionals and immunologists choosing instead to simply pass these recommendations on to parents. It makes every child susceptible to the recklessness of one or two.
It’s the cowards way out of a tough choice – simply pass it on to someone else and make them responsible.
As to requiring vaccinations, Holtzman is obviously wrong. The district already requires students to show proof of a plethora of vaccinations before they can start kindergarten. Measles, mumps, rubella… Covid is just one more.
And there IS a record of Covid vaccinations – the vaccine card you get when you are injected. I have mine, my wife has hers, my daughter has hers.
Holtzman is again taking the cowards way out.
And the worst part is he’s proud of it.
He’s proud of how long the district has stayed open during the pandemic and left it all to chance for district students.
I wonder if this reckless attitude is why a slight majority (5 of 9 members) had to resort to a special meeting last month to renew his contract early. He resigned and a day later was offered a new contract. Many of those voting for the contract are lame ducks who would not have a chance to vote when his current contract was up.
And far from showing any guilt over the matter, the same school directors did the same thing with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tia Wanzo at this meeting. They accepted her resignation and then immediately rehired her with a new contract. The vote was nearly the same as that for Holzman – Lopretto, Elias, Hampton, Poston and Filotei voted in favor. Kondrosky, Brown, Sturgess and Donato voted against it.
Hampton, Poston and Filotei all will be replaced in January. They either lost re-election during the May primary or decided to step down. Of those voting in favor, only Lopretto and Elias will remain on the board in the new year.
Clearly many on the board are doing whatever they please and not letting issues of morality or legality stop them.
It is a sad statement on the nature of our district.
But even worse, it is the children who may have to pay the highest toll.
Video of the complete meeting:
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This week the CDC changed its advice to all staff, students and teachers when schools reopen. Instead of wearing masks in schools only when unvaccinated, people should wear masks regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
This is necessary to protect children who aren’t eligible for the vaccine and slow the spread of new more infectious variants of the virus, representatives said.
The problem is that too many Americans don’t listen to advice – especially if it goes against their beliefs.
And there are a significant number of Americans who believe whatever crazy nonsense talk radio, Fox News or their savior Donald Trump tell them.
Immunologists talking about infectious disease just don’t rate.
So these people aren’t going to listen to the CDC’s advice.
That presents real problems both for them and for us.
First of all, they’re literally killing themselves.
More than 99% of people who die from Covid-19 these days are unvaccinated, and they make up almost the same percentage of recent hospitalizations.
As a result, cases of Covid-19 are on the rise again in most of the United States. In fact, this country leads the world in the daily average number of new infections, accounting for one in every nine cases reported worldwide each day.
The majority of these new cases are the more infectious delta variant, a version of the virus that could jump start cases even among the vaccinated.
And the reason the virus had a chance to mutate and become more resistant to our existing treatments was a ready supply of easy hosts – anti-vaxxers who refused to protect themselves and now have put the rest of the country back at risk.
Their ignorance and selfishness has put all of us in danger.
That makes me mad, and not just at the anti-vaxxers.
I’m mad at the federal government.
You could have done something about this. You SHOULD have done something, but you didn’t.
The Trump’s administration badly bungled the initial stages of the pandemic with late and inadequate international travel bans, failure to use federal authority to supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), failure to require mandatory universal paid sick leave for those unable to work due to the virus, and failure to mandate standards for the health and safety of workers.
In contrast, President Joe Biden’s administration has done better in making the vaccine readily available, but still failed to fix many of the problems it inherited and still continually neglecting to mandate anything.
“Hey, Buddy, why don’t you try this?” – is NOT good enough!
We need – “Do this OR ELSE!”
You can’t just make the vaccine available and hope people are smart enough to take it.
They aren’t. Not in America.
Not after decades of allowing lies and disinformation to infect the airwaves. In the name of freedom we’ve let Fox News and the former President poison the minds of admittedly easily lead citizens until their ignorance impacts all of us.
What we need now is to make vaccines a prerequisite to participate in all kinds of social congress – shopping, dinning at restaurants, movies, sporting events, schools, etc. But our government -our FEDERAL government – won’t do that.
Instead it’s a never ending cycle of passing the buck – that’s been our lawmakers response whether Republican or Democrat – to this crisis.
Authority is left it up to the states, who often refuse to allow safety precautions to be regulated or passed the decision on to someone else until it’s being made separately by every minor representative, podunk flunky and school director this side of Mayberry.
What a disgrace!
And here we are again.
The experts are telling us what we should do in the best interests of keeping our children safe. But the federal government refuses to back it up with its full authority.
Just advice. No rules.
Will people be required to wear masks in public schools?
It all depends on what local officials somewhere down the line decide.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf announced yesterday that he is not even considering a statewide mask mandate as Coronavirus cases surge nor will he require masks in schools.
Wolf said his strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 is the vaccine, itself, – the masking mandate was for when there was no vaccine.
“People have the ability, each individual to make the decision to get a vaccine,” Wolf says. “If they do, that’s the protection.”
Meanwhile, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald says he’d consider a mask mandate if infections were worse in the county, an area that includes the City of Pittsburgh. Though he suggests schools follow CDC advice, he’s not about to make that decision for them.
So it will be left to local school directors to decide what to do. Probably most of them will allow masks in school but not require them.
It’s a terrible situation with an incredible lack of leadership, but I get it.
School board directors do not have the power of the bully pulpit. They don’t have the power of Chief County Executives, Governors or the President.
If people challenge their decisions (as they probably would) that requires district finances for lengthy court battles and uncomfortable political confrontations for re-election.
None of these folks should have to make these kinds of life and death decisions.
That’s what the President is for. It’s what US Congress is for.
The buck has to stop somewhere. Right!?
But the matter has become so politicized and our representatives so spineless that our entire system hangs by a thread.
What if the federal government mandates masks and certain states or districts don’t listen?
Will its take the national guard to come in and enforce the mandate?
There was a time when lawmakers had the courage to do things like that – to legislate what was in the best interests of society and darn the consequences.
But today’s lawmakers do not have the courage to govern.
And once again, we’re paying for it.
Our society has failed to protect us. It barely functions anymore.
In the few years since we discovered Covid-19, young children have rarely gotten as sick from the virus as adults. However, that is changing. Infections have increased this summer as the delta variant spread until approximately 4.1 million children have been diagnosed with the disease resulting in about 18,000 hospitalizations and more than 350 deaths.
Vaccinated people can get infected if exposed to large enough viral loads. Unvaccinated kids could easily have those high viral loads. This means that everyone is a possible link in the chain of transmission.
But it’s not inevitable.
There is something we could do about it if we act now.
No more mere advice!
Pass some laws, make some rules to keep everyone as safe as possible and finally end this pandemic!
It just takes courage and common sense – two things in short supply in today’s United States.
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Why is our government abrogating its responsibility to keep us safe?
It’s not like lawmakers aren’t already dedicated to protecting us in other ways.
The federal government has strict regulations to keep our foods and medicines safe. It has regulations to keep our motor vehicles and buildings safe. It even has specific regulations about which other vaccines children must have before they can enter the public school system.
Why is Covid-19 any different?
The government won’t let you drive without putting on a seat belt, it regulates your speed on the highway, and it won’t let you smoke a cigarette in a public place.
Why won’t it do the same kind of thing with Covid-19?
If the CDC is correct that unvaccinated people should wear masks in schools particularly in indoor and crowded settings, then our government should mandate we follow those guidelines.
“Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports,” the CDC said in a statement.
This has often been interpreted as leaving room for fewer safety precautions.
But this goes against Walensky’s other statements that MORE RESTRICTIONS may be necessary, not less.
In areas with low vaccination rates, higher viral spread or with increasing cases of new strains of the virus, she has suggested universal masking and other measures.
Whether this miscommunication is a result of a cowardly Joe Biden administration or Walensky’s own fault, it has hurt the vaccination effort. Instead of meeting the goal of 70% of Americans fully vaccinated by the July 4th holiday, we’re stalled at nearly 50%.
If there were actual mandates about what vaccinated people were allowed to do and those mandates were enforced, it would probably incentivize more people to get the shots.
At very least we should mandate masks at every elementary school in the nation. After all, children 11 or younger aren’t even eligible for the vaccine because it hasn’t been cleared for that age group yet. No need to check medical records. Elementary schools will be filled with the unvaccinated.
But no. Nothing.
It’s not even like these new CDC guidelines are extreme.
They fall well short of safety guidance in other parts of the globe.
The CDC isn’t going that far because of confidence that the vaccines being used in the US – the ones made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson – are effective against new variants, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“We know from good studies that the Delta variant is protected against by the vaccines that fundamentally are being used here. And that’s the reason why the CDC feels at this point they should not change their recommendation,” he said.
If the CDC guidelines are sensible and moderate, why won’t the federal government enforce them?
The answer seems to be multifaceted.
First, the vaccine and even Covid-19, itself, have been politicized by the Republican Party.
Actually, that last email said the outbreak was limited to the Kindergarten class and teachers – that no close contacts were identified beyond its doors, in the building or the wider district as a whole.
However, considering that at least five more elementary teachers and another student tested positive later, I’m not sure I believe it.
All of which prompts the question – how accurate is contact tracing?
How Contact Tracing Works
Let’s say a little girl, Ava, gets COVID-19.
Where did she get it from?
Let’s do some contact tracing to find out.
We ask Ava to think back two days before she showed symptoms up until now. Who was she in close contact with (within six feet for at least 15 minutes)? She doesn’t remember much, but she gives us a list of two or three people who may fit the bill.
We call them, find that none of them are sick, none have been out of the state or country, ask them to quarantine and that’s it.
So where did Ava get the virus? Who did she get it from?
We don’t know.
And contact tracing rarely produces an answer to that question.
At best, people are scared and not as specific as they might be. At worst, they refuse to participate at all.
Michael Huff, Pennsylvania’s director of testing and contact tracing efforts, said that more than 34,000 new cases were reported over the past week, but case investigators were only successful in reaching about 8,332.
And of those they did reach, ninety-six people refused to quarantine.
No such estimate exists for school staff, but about 1 in 4 teachers – nearly 1.5 million – have conditions that raise their risk of getting seriously ill from Coronavirus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
And though many thousands of school staff have contracted the disease, more than 300 district employees have died nationwide from the virus according to the Associated Press.
Where did all these people get COVID-19?
Contact tracing provides no definitive answer, however, policymakers are pretending that means something.
However, many policymakers overlook this evidence as contrary or inconclusive.
They insist that contact tracing’s inability to consistently find the causal link is enough to disregard the existence of that link.
That’s like sniffing the air and claiming with absolute certainty that there is no leak of carbon monoxide. The gas is odorless and colorless. A sniff test will never tell you if it’s present. You need special equipment.
The fact is Ava has only been to two places in the last two weeks – home and at school.
At home there’s just Ava, her three brothers and her parents.
At school, there are hundreds of students and 8-9 staff she comes into contact with every day.
She is probably in closer contact with the people at home than at school. But the sheer number of people she is in contact with at school multiplied by the number of hours and then days – is tremendous!
The likelihood that Ava caught the virus at school is quite high – no matter how good the precautions being taken.
Taking Advantage of Our Ignorance
It is ludicrous to assume that the lack of a direct causal link after only a few months of schools being open to reduced capacity means much of anything.
States don’t compile COVID cases at schools. The federal government doesn’t either. In fact, no one really does.
A few self-proclaimed experts have tried to put together what data they can – and used that data to make extreme claims.
Economist Emily Oster has used a mere two weeks worth of data in September to argue that the virus isn’t spreading much in schools.
And policymakers have jumped on that bandwagon all across the country including director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield.
Oster is now trying to have it both ways – defending her argument but chiding anyone for taking it too seriously.
Her Website incorporates data that school districts publish voluntarily, along with some data reported directly to the site. However, Oster says it’s far from complete, and she was surprised Dr. Redfield was citing it as fact.
But it’s not just Oster who wants to have it both ways.
Policymakers say kids aren’t getting COVID at school and then walk back such claims when outbreaks happen in communities with high levels of infection.
Salt Lake City, Utah, had one of the biggest outbreaks in schools in the nation. However, that happened as infection rates reached more than double the level at which the state recommended distance learning.
“You can only open your school safely if you have COVID under control in your community,” said Benjamin Linas, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine who has advocated for opening schools under strict safety measures.
Which kind of disproves his position.
If COVID doesn’t spread much in schools, the infection rate in the community shouldn’t matter. If it does, then the virus can and does spread significantly in schools.
The situation in Utah has been partly attributed to community resistance to safety precautions like mask wearing and social distancing. When parents won’t take precautions, neither will children.
Keeping Schools Open During a Pandemic Increases Reckless Behavior
State Governors must have a different definition of safety than the rest of us.
The message was signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Delaware Governor John Carney, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Only Baker is a Republican. The rest are all Democrats.
“Medical research as well as the data from Northeastern states, from across the country, and from around the world make clear that in-person learning is safe when the appropriate protections are in place, even in communities with high transmission rates.”
This is just not true.
It is based not on research by epidemiologists, not on studies conducted by doctors, scientists or pharmacologists.
She wrote her dissertation explaining that there were less women in China not because of the one child policy and traditional attitudes toward girl children, but instead because Hepatitis B skewed sex ratios.
Oster is not a serious academic. She is someone who constantly says something controversial to court the media and public opinion.
She is a contrarian, an attention seeker, a celebutante – the economist version of someone who shouts “fire” in a crowded movie theater and then sells fire extinguishers to those rushing for the exits.
Since providing this cover story, various county departments of health have claimed that contact tracing rarely indicates students or teachers catch the virus at school. However, these conclusions are based on voluntary anecdotes, not hard data. At the local level, there is often a lot of pressure to find the cause of an outbreak somewhere else when childcare is at stake or administrative coercion involved.
“In-person learning is the best possible scenario for children, especially those with special needs and from low-income families. There is also growing evidence that the more time children spend outside of school increases the risk of mental health harm and affects their ability to truly learn.”
Talk about overstating the issue!
So kids can’t learn if their instruction is interrupted? It’s a good thing we never take any time off school, say during the summer months.
But it’s the callousness with which these governors paper over health concerns that really sounds like Oster, herself.
“There are people who would say if even one teacher acquires COVID at a school and dies, then it would not have been worth it to open schools,” Oster said. “I think that argument is complicated because people are going to suffer tremendously from schools being closed, but that is a tricky calculus.”
What kind of mental health issues do children experience whose teachers die suddenly and preventably? How do kids suffer with the loss of a loved one knowing full well that they may have inadvertently been the cause of that person’s death?
We cannot make bold statements of certainly about its effects without being deeply dishonest. There’s a lot we don’t know about it and how it affects people. And in light of that uncertainty it makes more sense to be extra cautious than reckless.
It’s high time our government passed a new round of Covid relief. We need to pay people to stay home so they don’t spread the virus. We need mortgage protection, universal healthcare and a host of services to help people weather the storm.