School districts across the nation are sending out notices about fall classes in 2020. They are asking parents how they would like to structure the classes considering the coronavirus crisis. Some districts are thinking about holding two daily class schedules, given the need for social distancing and other protocols. Buses will run half empty. Some districts are mandating major structural changes such as remodeling bathrooms so that each one can have an entrance and exit door.
The massive scale of changes needed is forcing other schools to cancel fall classes. These will again be held in the disastrous virtual classroom until the preparations are made. In any case, the possibility of a second wave of the virus is leading many to consider cutting the school year short.
All these measures are implemented to safeguard the health and welfare of the children. No sacrifice is too great to ensure their safety. In matters of public health, no child can be left behind.
All this concern for the children is commendable.
Measures Based on False Premises
However, these measures are based on false premises and little science. The school districts seem to be operating in a surreal universe divorced from medical reality. They are mandating huge and expensive changes to address a problem that has no proportion to the risks involved. It is as if they are dealing with another virus. Indeed, exaggerated reactions to real or imagined dangers is a definition of hysteria.
Based on the data and the science that any American can access, it is not hard to come to these conclusions.
The hard facts show that the coronavirus crisis mercifully excludes children from its victims. While children can contract the virus, the majority of infected children have mild or no symptoms. The number of deaths is infinitesimally small. Healthy young people, in general, have an amazing resistance to the virus. Taking measures to “flatten the curve” among children makes no sense since there is no curve.
Taking Care of the Vulnerable
Everyone knows that people older than 65 are the demographic most vulnerable to the virus. Inside that set is the even more susceptible subset of those with comorbidities or existing conditions. This over-65 age group accounts for eighty percent of those who die from the virus. The average age of these deaths is 80.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put it another way in a recent graph. At the end of May, those over 75 accounted for two-thirds of the deaths. Those younger than 45 make up less than 2 percent of those who die! That is to say, school-age children are a tiny subset inside this immaterial two percent.
As of May 21, only 14 of the 23,083 lives lost in New York City were younger than 20. Of those twenty, ten were between the ages of 10 to 19 and four under age 9. Many of these children had underlying conditions.
And yet all these massive changes nationwide in the schools are being made, considering this infinitesimally small number of endangered children.
The emotional argument used to answer such an affirmation is to claim that even the saving of one child’s life makes these measures mandatory. Indeed, it is easy to speculate about other people’s children until the affected child is one’s own.
The answer to the objection must be to put it in perspective. The first response is to say that there is no guarantee that these measures are saving lives, given the virus’s mild effect on children.
However, the most powerful response is to compare risks. The Wall Street Journal (June 13-14) reports that “children under 14 are between 6.8 to 17 times less likely to die of Covid-19 than the seasonal flu or pneumonia assuming 150,000 coronavirus deaths this year.” They are also 128 times more likely to die from an accident.
School districts would be much better served by combating the flu or preventing pneumonia rather than remodeling bathrooms. They might as well ban riding in buses since they are doubling their workload and increasing the more lethal possibility of accidents. They might stop recess to avoid cuts and bruises by exuberant children.
No school can eliminate all risks—nor should they. Learning to evaluate proportional dangers is part of a child’s education.
The Problem of Contagion
The final objection raised by those demanding changes for children is contagion. While the children do not die from the virus, they can be carriers of it and infect their loved ones. Thus, children must be subject to all the precautions as adults.
Again, science does not support this conclusion. Researchers find that children can get the virus and display mild or no symptoms; they generally are not transmitters of it. According to the review led by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in London, experts could not find a single case in which a young child passed the virus on to a grownup. Some scientists believe the virus behaves differently in children, which diminishes the danger of contagion.
Tests in Australia tracking fifteen schools in March and April found no cases of students passing the virus to teachers. Taiwan schools never closed their schools yet registered lower case and fatality rates than Western countries that closed theirs.
Although there is no consensus on the full extent of possible transmission, the data and science do show children are not good transmitters of the virus. The risks to healthy families do not appear to be significant.
Yet all these massive measures are being taken without proportional evidence to justify them. People need to be careful and practice hygiene. The medical establishment must be watchful for changes in the virus if there is a second wave. However, as it now stands, why do whole schools need to be restructured?
School districts need to face the facts and follow the data. They need to make decisions based on science. Instead of reconfiguring the whole school system, administrators might do better to add more science and math courses. Then everyone could better evaluate how to cope with the crisis.