I’m dismayed by proposals to reopen schools for in-person teaching at the same time as Massachusetts continues to ban large gatherings, theaters, bars, nightclubs and the like because of how they spread coronavirus. After weeks of declining cases, the number of people sick with covid-19 is growing in greater Boston again. And in neighboring Rhode Island, cases are also ticking upwards.

Internationally, we’ve already seen dine-in restaurants, taverns, houses of worship, daycares, and schools being key spreaders of coronavirus. In Israel, schools shut down because of the virus, reopened, and “we just saw big outbreaks in schools,” Daniel Estrin, NPR’s international correspondent in Jerusalem, said in a July 10 report. Israel’s Public Health Service reported on July 7: “schools—not restaurants or gyms—turned out to be the country’s worst mega-infectors.”

Many of the public assertions fueling the push to reopen schools—that children are less susceptible to covid-19 than adults, face lesser effects, and spread it less—are based on very limited information. Humanity has only been facing coronavirus for seven or eight months. We still have scant information on its transmission and effects—especially long term. And daunting new information keeps arriving.

“Older Children Spread the Coronavirus Just as Much as Adults, Large Study Finds: The study of nearly 65,000 people in South Korea suggests that school reopenings will trigger more outbreaks,” is the headline of a July 18 New York Times article. The report went on: “Children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do. The findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages, several experts cautioned.”

Florida “statistics also show the percentage of children testing positive is much higher than the population as a whole. Statewide, about 31 percent of 54,022 children tested have been positive. The state’s positivity rate for the entire population is about 11 positive,” the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on July 14.

“They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children. … We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now,” Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County, Florida’s health department director, said July 14, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems or not?”

Here, “the 14-day [coronavirus] rolling averages in four metro Boston counties are rising,” the city of Somerville reported on July 17. “The averages in Middlesex (rising from 42 to 48), Suffolk (from 33 to 39), Norfolk (from 20 to 29), and Bristol (from 22 to 28) counties have all shown modest upticks in new cases according to The New York Times hotspot tracker as of July 16. Additionally, on July 10, the state opened additional testing locations in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford, citing that these communities ‘have continued to see a higher number of residents testing positive for COVID-19.’”

“At least one Melrose High School student has tested positive for COVID-19,” Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur announced on July 15. The teen has apparently been actively involved in football team activities, according to the Melrose Patch. “After several weeks of very few cases of Covid-19, the City has recently witnessed an increase in cases,” Brodeur said July 16.

“To reopen we must have either steady or downward case trends locally and regionally—not just statewide,” Somerville Director of Health and Human Services Doug Kress said in a July 17 press release. “We must also have all of the critical components for safe reopening in place. That’s widespread easily accessible testing, effective contact tracing and tracking, and isolation support backed up by widespread compliance with requirements for face coverings, social distancing, hygiene, and business safety protocols. Massachusetts has made incredible progress over the last few months. We don’t want to undo that by pushing forward without every element in place.”

But our schools are facing these dire challenges with fewer resources. Educational institutions across the state are facing budget cuts due to the coronavirus economic recession. They’re cutting teachers and some teachers will opt out of in-person instruction because of health risks—so schools will likely have larger class sizes. There’s little money for additional space to increase social distancing within classrooms. And many schools don’t have additional funds for protective equipment.

“What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine?” asks a list of questions that has spread around social media.

It seems little preparation has been done to make schools safe during coronavirus—or to improve remote teaching. So wanting our children to get good educations and cognizant that remote teaching last spring was a poor substitute for in-classroom instruction, we’re left with terrible choices—dangerous schools versus poor remote teaching.

All this reveals that the push to reopen schools is not really rooted in education, but in the desire to provide free daycare to get parents back to work. Which is a good goal. A better solution: Pay folks to say home until things are safe. And improve remote teaching.

Reopening the schools for in-person education in such a recklessly unsafe manner will lead to students, teachers and staff getting sick—taking it back home to their families—and spreading it throughout the community. It will cause deaths.

Why should we risk the life of one child? Why should we risk the life of one teacher?

Afterwards, when we look back, it will be plain who made these decisions, who pushed to reopen the schools before they were safe and in doing so recklessly spread sickness and death throughout our community. And in the aftermath, we’ll ask why did these leaders, amidst all the evidence of deadly danger, care so little for our children, so little for our families, so little for our communities?

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P.S. College….

Categories: Opinion