VIEWPOINT: Governor Newsom Should Push to Open Schools for Classroom Instruction

California Governor Gavin Newsom

Two Circling the News readers wrote, saying that when I pressed for schools to be opened on July 13 (“Viewpoint: Our Schools Need to Reopen”), I was ignoring the fact that younger kids could infect seniors.

I agree that this is possible. We all know that Covid-19 has disproportionately hit seniors. According to the CDC, “The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those 85 or older, and eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years and older.”

Of the total deaths reported by the CDC 120,119 (as of July 15- counts are updated on Wednesday), that means 96,592 have been seniors (39,750 were 85 or older).

In California, there have been 7,651 deaths and 5,834 have been 65 and older  (updated July 20).

L.A. County has had a total of 3,844 deaths, with 1,483 of them reported in nursing homes. Covid-19 deaths are broken down by race but not by age. However, daily reports at the L.A. County Public Health sites show that ages are known.

The County reported on July 20 that there were “nine new deaths, six people that passed away were over the age of 65 years old and two people who died were between the ages of 41 and 65 years. Five people had underlying health conditions including four people over the age of 65 years old and one person between the ages of 41 to 65 years old. Ninety-two percent of people who died had underlying health conditions.”

Politicians argue that “science” is keeping states from opening schools in August or September.

A recent German study (visit: https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-07-13/german-study-shows-low-coronavirus-infection-rate-in-schools) noted, “Germany began reopening schools in May, though debate continues as to the role children may play in spreading the virus to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff…The first results gave no evidence that school children play a role in spreading the virus particularly quickly.”

“Children may even act as a brake on infection,” Reinhard Berner, from the University Hospital of Dresden, told a news conference, saying “infections in schools had not led to an outbreak, while the spread of the virus within households was also less dynamic than previously thought.”

Students sit in a classroom at a primary school in Eichenau, southern Germany, on June 16.                    Photo:  Christof Stache

Most European and some Asian countries have reopened schools. (The July 6 report, “Summary of School Re-Opening Models and Implementation Approaches During the COVID 19 Pandemic,” can be found at:  https://globalhealth.washington.edu/sites/default/files/COVID-19%20Schools%20Summary%20%282%29.pdf?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTkRreE5XWXlORFF3TXpNeCIsInQiOiJIbVNQTTVySEo0Vzk1cHVBZVVqWnFGVmR1UEJxRGdpd01mTXg4OGw3Mk5nTnpmaUoyMGt2UXIwWVZBOE5GVjIybHA5aStrbzJ3MUxsanoxamZibmlocmpSbXZyVFVoV0VHYU1aTGx0RnpsMXlmOEtXSVJqaDJsZ0RJU1BQcVZjZSJ9).

Students wearing face masks in a classroom at the Marie Curie school in Hanoi, Vietnam, on May 4. Manan Vatsyanana/AFP

 

Additionally, one CTN reader wrote that Israel had opened schools too soon. NPR’s July 10 program (“Lessons on Reopening Schools the U.S. Could Learn from Germany, Israel and Thailand”) featured three experts, including Daniel Estrin from Jerusalem.

Estrin said, “What happened in Israel is quite a cautionary tale, I think. At first, the Israeli health professionals here urged the government, yes, let school resume again, but only let kids under the age of 9 go back to school, and keep it in small groups. And they said data around the world show that younger kids have a very low rate of infection and transmission.

“But instead of just letting the younger kids go back to school, there were these last-minute negotiations. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools wanted the older kids to go back to religious studies, and so they did. And then 11th- and 12th-graders also went back to school. And so very, very quickly, everyone was back. And then very quickly after that, there was a heat wave, so the government said, well, kids don’t need to wear masks anymore during this heat wave. And then we just saw big outbreaks in schools, and a lot of schools shut down for several weeks.”

Empty California classrooms. Students could be behind as much as a year with virtual learning.

Then, a July 16 L.A. Times story (“L.A. Latino, Black Students Suffered Deep Disparities in Online Learning, Records Show”) dropped a bombshell: “More than 50,000 Black and Latino middle and high school students in Los Angeles did not regularly participate in the school system’s main platform for virtual classrooms after campuses closed in March, a reflection of the deep disparities faced by students of color amid the COVID-19 pandemic and of the difficulties ahead as L.A. Unified prepares for continued online learning.”

To recap, the people most affected by Covid-19 are 65 and older, and the death statistics are clear. Children are far less likely to be affected and could go to school (no child under the age of 17 has died in California because of Covid-19). It appears that children do not spread Covid-19 as readily as older people.

What this means is we need to focus on how to keep our seniors safe. What it doesn’t mean is we keep kids out of school, at least in Los Angeles. Virtual learning has proven to be ineffective for far too many students.

Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom said that schools in counties on the monitoring list (including L.A. County) should ensure that distance learning is “rigorous.”

Hmm. How will rigorous learning be enforced?

On July 12, NBC News ran a story titled “Back to School: What Doctors Say about Children and COVID-19.”

“I think children have had significant social and emotional concerns from online learning over the past several months,” Dr. Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health in New York, said. “I don’t think online learning works very well for children, especially young children, and especially children that are in poverty.”

Dr. Shilpa Patel, a New Jersey-based pediatrician, said it’s challenging to make predictions because scientists are still learning about the virus. But she said she has no hesitations about letting her kids return to school this fall.

“Nothing will be normal until we get a vaccine,” Patel said. “These are trying times that we’re living in, but yes, I will send my kids back to school in September.”

If science is behind sending kids back to school, what’s the hesitation? The Wall Street Journal July 20 editorial (“Politicians vs. Catholic Schools”) notes, “Chalk it up as another sad example of politicians putting the interest of unions over kids.”

The editorial states that many parochial schools had planned to open, but “on average, tuition at Catholic schools runs between $1,00 and $4,000 less than what states spend per pupil to educate kids at public schools. If Catholic schools could find a way to open safely, what excuse do public schools have for staying closed.”

That’s okay, we can be “Ugly Americans” in Pacific Palisades. We know virtual learning doesn’t work, so parents are trying to hire part-time teachers and tutors to continue their kids’ education, while many families in poor neighborhoods are stuck.

Let’s help all kids. Force Newsom to face science and open the schools.

Pupils sitting behind partition boards made of plexiglass attend a class at a primary school, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Den Bosch, Netherlands, May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

 

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