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Open the schools

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

The County Commission now has nearly-unlimited powers under Governor DeSantis’ emergency order, but the commissioners are not prepared for that level of responsibility. In their July 14 meeting, they demonstrated (again) just how uninformed and unqualified they are to micromanage all our lives. When Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers said that the risk to children is close to zero and they don’t tend to spread COVID-19 to adults, Marihelen Wheeler said she was “blown away” by that information. Several other commissioners were equally confused by the information and asked for clarification.

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You’d think people responsible for making decisions about our COVID-19 response would pay attention to the research that is readily available on the spread of COVID in various age groups, but perhaps it’s too much to ask them to do more than watch national news broadcasts from networks that profit from constantly ratcheting up fear.

A review of 78 studies by the UK Royal College of Paediatrics concluded, “Low case numbers in children suggest a more limited role than was initially feared.” It cites studies of multiple family clusters and found that children were unlikely to be the index case. The study found “consistent evidence is demonstrating a lower likelihood of acquiring infection, and lower rates of children bringing infections into households.” This is true even for children with immunosuppression.

In an Icelandic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, children under 10 were less than half as likely to get infected than older people among those that had recently traveled to high-risk countries. In their random population screening, no child under 10 had a positive SARS-CoV-2 test.

A French study by Institut Pasteur looked at 1,340 people in primary schools. They only found three probable cases of SARS-CoV2 infection among students, which “did not give rise to secondary cases among other school students or teaching staff.” The study concluded that it was more likely that the parents infected the children rather than catching it from other students or faculty. There were no deaths.

Even the Pope of Panic Porn, Anthony Fauci, said “the country will be in ‘good shape’ for reopening schools by the start of next school year in the fall,” as reported by The Hill.

Schools are already open in China, Taiwan (since February!), Germany (since May), Sweden, Denmark (since April), Norway (since April), and New Zealand.

This document from the Washington State Department of Health has an interesting table contrasting the policies of the various countries that have reopened schools and the resulting spread of COVID. Denmark, for example, only sent younger children back to school with increased physical distancing but no face masks, and they haven’t seen a significant growth in COVID cases. Israel, on the other hand, opened for all students with required face masks but no increased physical distancing, and they’ve had outbreaks in several schools.

Anyone watching the data for Florida knows how little kids have been impacted by COVID-19. The July 14 line data file from the Florida Department of Health shows people under age 25 make up 21% of the cases but only 0.0048% of the deaths (only 14 deaths total, and while the details are kept private, some families have stepped forward to share that the children had significant underlying health conditions). The case fatality rate is only 0.023% for those under 25 (14 out of 61,422 diagnosed infections). Over the past 4 years, an average of 32 people a year under age 25 have died from influenza in the state of Florida. Were you worried about sending your kids to school in any of those years? Did we require them to wear masks?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (using CDC data), hospitalizations from COVID-19 in the U.S. are 107.2 per 100K people for the general population, but only 4.4 per 100K for kids age 5-17. They released a statement emphasizing the importance of kids returning to school: “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom… But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.”

The AAP’s statement was softened in response to teachers’ unions, which have no incentive to return their members to work, especially if they keep getting paid while kids are out of school. The LA teachers’ union issued a manifesto of demands to return to work which included Medicare for All, a wealth tax, defunding police, universal paid sick leave, and financial support for illegal aliens. These are not people who have our children’s health or education as a priority.

Some parents are worried about the long-term impacts of possible scarring in the lungs from COVID-19 or an inflammatory syndrome that a UF pediatrician says is  “rare.” We went from “wait two weeks” to “wait twenty years.”

However, parents should also be worried about the long-term psychological impacts on children of social isolation and the absence of routines.

The school board is meeting this afternoon to discuss reopening and a requirement for teachers and children to wear masks. They are certain to hear from a lot of worried parents who have the resources and flexibility to continue to stay home with their kids and supervise their academic work. Parents who do not have those resources and flexibility should make sure their voices are heard (see the article linked above for various ways to submit your opinion).

Parents who are not opposed to sending their children back to school but balk at all the proposed restrictions may want to consider private schools (obviously, check their policies) or online schools (like https://www.fpeusa.org/). We also suspect a number of families will decide to try homeschooling (try https://www.homeschool.com/ to start).

A year from now, when these same politicians are whining about equity disparities in education, make sure you remember the decisions made this week and how the decision-makers ignored actual data. We’d be better off if schools were open and the commission was prevented from meeting and issuing uninformed emergency orders.

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