Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Should schools remain open amid Omicron surge?

Posted in best practices, COVID-19, school by commorancy on December 23, 2021

teach dice ornament on table

I’ve watched a number of people appearing on large news networks who are proponents for schools to remain open amid the Omicron surge. Their primary reason behind this “remain open” argument is that kids are at low risk for dangers from Omicron. This is an entirely one sided argument and fails to take into account too many other risk factors. Let’s explore this fallacy.

COVID-19 Risks

While I may agree that kids may be at far lower risk from severe effects from Omicron if they acquire it, that argument largely holds no water and here are the relevant points:

  1. School administrators are adults, not children. These adults are those who must teach these children and it is these very adults who are susceptible and at risk from illness.
  2. It’s already proven that schools are germ factories for diseases. Meaning, children are well known for catching and passing around diseases among their school age peers. I can’t even count the number of colds I caught during my time in public schools. Yes, schools are a petri dish both in growing and spreading pathogens easily and, most importantly, rapidly.
  3. Children bring home pathogens to their household and spread it amongst family members and school friends.

While children may be more resilient to the effects of pathogens, they aren’t immune to spreading it amongst school faculty, staff and within their own households and to their friends. This is important to understand.

But, the psychological effects?

True, there may be psychological effects of children being unable to properly bond or have in-person friendships because of school closures. I get it, but we have to look at the importance levels of these factors. Does the child’s psychological effects from being in school trump the practical safety of those adults who may get seriously ill or die because one or more children spread COVID?

Clearly, these proponents are claiming that the psychological effects are far more damaging than people dying from COVID around these children. They’re not outright making this claim, but it’s the logical subtext that’s being unspoken with their arguments.

It’s also entirely wrong thinking. Children aren’t dying because they can’t sit in a classroom with classmates and learn. However, those around them are. What good does it do to open classrooms only to find more and more teachers either dying of COVID or becoming so seriously ill they can no longer work? How does that help the children or the school?

How many teachers must die to make this point? When do the mounting deaths in school become enough to warrant school closure? 1, 10, 50, 100 or more? Children cannot teach themselves. They require adults to impart that knowledge. However, when more and more adults around them continue to get sick and potentially die from COVID, then what?

Worse, children tend to blame themselves for such chaotic and serious situations even if it’s not true. However, with COVID, the child might actually be correct that their actions directly led to the death of their favorite teacher. How does a child psychologically cope with that? The psychological damage from knowing that child might have spread COVID to a teacher who died is way more damaging than a child lacking meaningful social interactions with their friends by learning at home, away from their classmates.

Learning Environments

Remote learning works. It does. Anyone who claims that it doesn’t work is only making excuses. The problem isn’t remote learning, it’s that these proponents typically have school age children themselves. The point, their motivation isn’t protecting the safety of the school system, but the inconvenience of having children at home. When a child is at home remote learning, a parent must remain home to watch that child. Inconvenient.

It’s this simple inconvenience that is motivating these “parent” proponents to pressure schools to remain open. It’s this inconvenience that motivates them to make statements stating psychological problems and ignoring all else. Again, their argument has nothing to do with protecting the safety of the school.

Variants and Safety

If anything, Omicron has pointed out that the variants are coming and they’re likely to get much, much worse than become weaker. What this means for schools is that eventually a variant will impact children negatively. In fact, Delta had already begun to show this. Many more children died due to Delta than any other variant before. With Omicron, these school “stay open” proponents are merely guessing that Omicron will play “nice” to children. We simply don’t know enough yet about Omicron to make this assertion.

Allowing children to spread Omicron might become a harsh lesson to parents… a lesson that shows us that children may no longer be spared from their “youngness”. Even if it’s not Omicron, it could be the next variant down the road.

Do we really want to congregate masses of children in places with little safety protections simply to teach them math and history? What good does it do if children begin succumbing to the variants and dying in masses? Then what? Will these “stay open” proponents take the blame for their callous disregard for safety? No.

Leave the Decision to the Schools

Ultimately, it’s the school district’s responsibility to protect its teachers, staff and, yes, even the students. The school districts should make the decision as to whether they remain open. Not the parents. Not the teachers. Not the children. Each school, in conjunction with the school board, should make the determination of the threat level any variant poses to each school’s safety.

The school is responsible for creating a safe and effective learning environment. You can’t have one without the other. Tossing safety over learning isn’t a road that leads to success. Just the opposite, in fact. It’s a road that leads to failure.

Parental Inconvenience

I’m sorry that parents feel inconvenienced after school closures. However, it’s your child. Your child is your responsibility. If you didn’t want to bear that burden, you shouldn’t have had children. The school system is not a free day care service. It’s a school. It has the responsibility to teach your child, not babysit them.

As a parent, you may view a school as an all-day babysitter. I guarantee you schools absolutely do not see it that way. Schools exist to “school” your child. Sure, schools take children off of your hands for 8 hours to teach them, thus giving you a reprieve from having a child for a portion of the day. However, that doesn’t mean the child is no longer your responsibility during those 8 hours away.

If a school feels that a closure is needed to ensure the safety of every student, teacher and staff member, then that’s an appropriate measure from the school. That also means it’s on you, the parent, to determine the best way to handle your child while the school remains closed, inconvenient or not.

Pandemic

A pandemic is most definitely a reason for schools to close and remain closed. After all, we know children are not responsible when handling and touching dirty items. Thus, it’s easy for a child to become exposed to colds and flu, and, yes, COVID while at school.

A pandemic means that a virus is spreading uncontrollably throughout the world. Children don’t fully grasp the concept of a pandemic. However, they do understand when they can’t visit friends or go to school or play football. These are things children do understand.

Yes, these may have psychological impact on a child’s well being. However, we’re all suffering during this pandemic. Are we trying to somehow “shield” our children from the effects of the pandemic by attempting to keep schools open in defiance of public safety?

Mass Spreading and Ending the Pandemic

Everyone becomes impacted once the spreading of COVID begins, regardless of where it begins, such as in a school or at a movie theater or even at a stadium full of people. Unnecessary spread is unnecessary spread. The more the virus spreads, the more likelihood this pandemic will never end. Worse, the more often the virus spreads, the more chances it has of creating a new variant. Variant creation is never a good thing.

By keeping children in school, regardless of the severity level on a specific child’s health if they contract COVID, the more chances COVID has of spreading both inside and outside of the school and creating a mass spreading event. As I said, we’ll never get out of the pandemic if we continue to do things that cause mass spreading. If we want to stop COVID, we need to halt mass spreading.

Halting the Pandemic

To stop this pandemic means halting large congregations of people coming together in the same location untested. There is no other way around this issue. We must halt untested mass congregations to halt the virus’s spread. The only way viruses spread is by large numbers of untested people congregating together in close proximity, such as in a plane. Because of lack of testing, this spawns mass spreading events.

Clearly, Omicron is now a mass spreading event. Could the spread of Omicron have been stopped? Not easily. Why? Because, at least in the U.S., we seem to have the poorest testing system of any nation. In fact, testing should have been our top priority from day one.

The only definitive way to halt mass spreading is to test everyone immediately prior to entry. However, our testing has been woefully inadequate all throughout this pandemic. Instead of focusing on testing, we have focused on vaccination. Vaccination has really only helped somewhat reduce spread in adults, not in children. It’s only recently that vaccines have been approved for children of certain ages. Even then, there’s some question as to how effective the vaccines are in children. This means that the dosage may not yet be correct to elicit a proper antibody response in children. This could still leave children vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID, even though they have been vaccinated.

Testing and Tests

Testing is our #1 way out of this pandemic, which the United States has almost entirely ignored since the start of the pandemic. If the United States had focused on producing accurate mass amounts of home test kits in the first few months of the pandemic, we might have been able to halt the pandemic long before now.

Why? Because you can’t spread what you don’t have. If everyone is required to test negative to enter a store, stadium, restaurant, school or board a plane or train, we could have halted the spread within a few months. Mandating the use of instant tests at the entry to every mass public gathering area would have almost instantly halted the spread. A negative test means no one in that venue has COVID-19.

Sure, testing will inconvenience those who test positive, but inconveniencing a few who are carrying and spreading the virus is well worth the pain to halt the spread of this virus in its tracks. Testing is the answer, not vaccines alone. Vaccines help reduce death rates once infected, but they effectively do nothing to halt the spread. Testing combined with quarantine rules halts the spread and this should have been mandated from the very beginning. Testing is the holy grail to stopping this virus.

Instead, we ignored testing as a means to halt the spread and mistakenly put vaccines way out in front as the “Holy Grail”. We can see how well that has worked. Omicron is spreading like wildfire even though 60% of the U.S. population is now vaccinated.

I’ll even venture to guess that once we reach an 85% vaccination rate, we’ll still see COVID spread like wildfire among the vaccinated. The symptoms may be more mild, but spread is still possible among the vaccinated. Right now, the news media is playing the “unvaccinated” card as the reason for the spread. Eventually, they’ll no longer be able to play this card to explain away the latest surge after vaccination rates reach the suggested “herd immunity” minimum level.

Testing in Schools

Testing goes for schools, too. Each morning, a parent should be required to run a test kit on their child. The school nurse should then be required to review each student’s test for negative or positive results. If a child tests positive, they go home and stay home. Any child who has had immediate contact with that positive child also goes home to quarantine. No child will be allowed to attend a school if they test positive for the day or if they have had immediate contact with someone who has tested positive.

The same goes for teachers and staff. Every morning, these employees must also perform a test before they can report to work. If a teacher or staff tests positive, they’re sent home to quarantine.

As I said, the only way to halt the spread is to mandate testing at every single entry point to public spaces and reject those who test positive. If the person cannot or is unwilling to show a negative test result for that day, then they must be required to have a test performed immediately or be barred from entry. Refusing to test is the same to testing positive and the person will be refused entry.

We halt this virus through the use of policies including policies for testing, policies against belligerence and entry refusal policies. The more we do this, the faster we can burn this virus out. If the virus cannot propagate, it cannot survive. With mandated testing and strict entry controls, we can halt this virus in its tracks. There is ultimately no other way.

Schools Staying Open

If parents wish schools to stay open, then the only means by which this can be done is utilizing the testing method described above. That means test providers need to drastically ramp up production of instant test kits so that any school, restaurant, store or stadium can require that every person test negative immediately prior to entry. Testing applies to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. No one is given a ‘pass’. A positive test = no entry… period. No discussion. You go home and stay home until your test shows negative.

This also follows for schools. Students who test positive go home. Students who test negative can remain in class. This is the only method by which schools can also remain open. We cannot rely on supposition that because students have fewer problems when infected that it’s somehow okay to keep the school open. Infection = spreading. Spreading = mass spreading. Mass spreading = pandemic continues and more deaths.

We all want this pandemic to end. We can’t have that if schools remain open without appropriate testing of students prior to entry. If schools wish to remain open, they must adopt a test-before-entry protocol to allow or deny entry based on immediately prior test results. While the vaccines help keep us out of the hospital after infection, testing is the key to ending this pandemic once and for all… not only in schools, but in every large public venue.

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