We have to close schools. We have to close them now, and we have to keep them closed throughout the winter. End of story.
Experts quoted in The New York Times agree we have a COVID-19 surge coming, a surge on top of a surge — when one in four teachers are in the high-risk bracket for infection. Public health officials begged Americans to stay home this holiday season, but as Vox reports, two in five — almost a full forty percent of Americans — planned to attend large Thanksgiving gatherings as of the week before the holiday. Air travel that weekend set a pandemic-era record, says CNN: over a million people passing through TSA screening on Thanksgiving Eve.
Experts expect “staggering growth in infections and deaths if current trends continue,” says NPR.
If we want to get a handle on this third surge, we need to close schools: not just to protect faculty, staff, and students, but also to help prevent a widespread public health crisis.
Yes, Kids Spread COVID-19
Do you believe the lie that kids don’t get COVID-19? In the week ending Nov. 18, there were 144,000 new cases of the virus in children, reports The Washington Post — that we know about. The Post also says some parents are making pacts not to test their children, so we can’t be sure. And children may often be asymptomatic, but a Massachusetts General Hospital study found that even asymptomatic children carry a high viral load than even COVID-19 infected adults in an ICU.
In other words: your kid could be sick right now. You might not know it. And they could be spewing a viral load worse than a COVID-19 infected patient on a ventilator. You don’t know your kid is sick, so you allow them to meet up with other children, to whom they spread the virus. You send them to school, where they breathe on other kids and teachers. Your family may stay asymptomatic, or deal with mild cases of COVID-19. The people who contract COVID-19 from them may not be so lucky.
They may be in high risk categories themselves, like those one in four teachers. My husband’s in that bracket. If your schoolkid gives him COVID-19, his two preexisting conditions could bring complications that leave him gasping on a ventilator — or worse. During this pandemic, my state has seen 1,267 faculty and staff infected with COVID-19, and most local high schools have seen more than five cases of students infected with COVID-19 in the last 30 days.
These reports are only given voluntarily, and everyone who gets sick may not be tested.
If we close schools, we’d keep teachers and students alike safe.
Close Schools Because They Can’t Keep Kids Safe
And when we say it’s safe to open schools, we mean schools that can put adequate precautionary measures in place: constant distancing, strict mask-wearing, and good ventilation. ProPublica reports that some schools do not require masks.
Imagine a classroom. Imagine a room with 12-30 students and one teacher sitting in one place, breathing the same air, for ninety minutes. We know that face masks alone will not prevent infection if the exposure happens over a long period of time, says El Pais. All school also need, along with face masks, distancing procedures and proper ventilation.
Try to keep twenty first graders six feet apart. Do it. We’re waiting.
Not really possible, is it? We need to close schools.
Now try to assure twenty kindergarteners keep their masks on properly. All day.
Having trouble? We need to close schools.
Proper ventilation? Edweek reports that one federal group says over 36,000 schools in 41% of American school districts need to “update or replace heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.” In other words, there’s a very good chance your child sits in a classroom without enough ventilation to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Schools aren’t requiring masks. Schools aren’t distancing. Schools don’t have proper ventilation. We need to close schools now and keep them shuttered until the winter surge has ended.
Because Winter Is Coming
The CDC predicts that we could have as many as 2.5 million new cases of COVID-19 before Christmas. They are also predicting a spike in the number of COVID-19 related deaths in the coming weeks. The New York Times reports that federal officials have predicted, alongside a rise in case numbers and deaths, an increased strain on hospitals. We know hospitals, especially in the Midwest, are already overtaxed.
This comes at a point when hospitals across the country are having to ban elective surgery again. A Mayo Clinic location in Northwest Wisconsin reported on October 30th that all ICU beds and surgical beds were full; Cleveland Clinic is “closely monitoring” their supply of PPE, staff, and bed availability. Sound familiar? It might remind you of measures we had to take in the spring — when governors made the decision to close schools nationwide.
Dr. Michael Mina, a professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told NPR that, “We are likely to see massive explosions of cases and outbreaks that could potentially make what we’ve seen so far look like it hasn’t been that much.” Extrapolations show we could bring the United States’ COVID-19 death toll up to 390,000.
In other words, we’re in a public health crisis on top of a public health crisis, and we need to close schools to help stop the spread of the virus. If schools stay open, we’re only adding fuel to the fire. More kids and teachers in one space equals more cases, which will cause more deaths and more strain on already-taxed hospital systems.
Yes, It’ll Be Difficult to Close Schools
Yes, we know that people need childcare. Americans need to work, and if we close schools, more people will have more trouble finding adequate childcare. Essential workers are especially at risk. However, we dealt with it in the spring. The stimulus package helped. So when we do close schools, we need to assure that people don’t lose their homes, go hungry, or suffer other painful economic consequences — and that means another stimulus package for all Americans.
In addition, we have to maintain schools as distribution centers for children suffering from food insecurity.
But winter is coming. COVID-19 cases will rise. And if we don’t close schools, and close schools now, we’re only adding fuel to an already-raging fire.