Now Is Literally The Worst Time To Reopen Schools

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
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Everyone knows COVID-19 is running rampant through America right now. How bad? According to Your Local Epidemiologist, our best metric right now, because of a holiday lag time in reporting and testing, is hospitalizations. Remember when LA was out of hospital beds in mid-December? Now they’re running out of oxygen for COVID-19 patients, and Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency has told their crews not to transport patients with a low chance of survival, says one Chicago news source. They’ve turned church gyms into emergency hospitals. And with a “feared surge” from holiday gatherings approaching, the situation is worsening, with one hospital supervisor calling it “a human disaster.” In other words: this is the worst time to reopen schools.

It’s not just Southern California.

COVID-19 is swallowing the South as well. Smaller counties in Florida, including Seminole, have zero ICU capacity, says local news. South Carolina’s The State reports that several counties in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have 95% of their ICU beds occupied, including those around capital cities. States are setting new records for hospitalizations daily. Local news in Alabama says their hospitals are also becoming overwhelmed, and officials believe their current crisis stems from Thanksgiving gatherings — not yet Christmas.

We’re seeing the worst of COVID-19 we’ve seen yet. We simply can’t reopen schools.

If We Reopen Schools, We’ll Spread the Virus

With the virus raging outside of schools, asymptomatic children will appear in classrooms. They’ll contract the virus from family members; they’ll contract it from other children. According to the Center for Disease Control, evidence suggests that as many as half of all pediatric COVID-19 infections remain asymptomatic. So though a class full of children may appear healthy, chances are they aren’t. And chances are they’re spreading the virus — not only to each other, but to faculty and staff.

These people carry the virus to their homes, where it can infect more vulnerable populations, including the elderly, the infirm, and those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma.

The Harvard Gazette reports that a study published by The Journal of Pediatrics found that children, including asymptomatic children, carry a viral load higher than that of ICU patients. Moreover, a study from JAMA found that those asymptomatic children can shed the virus for weeks. If we reopen schools, our unknowing superspreaders are likely to be small children.

Don’t Rant About Proper Procedures, Karen

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We could reopen schools in a perfect world. That perfect world would include universal proper masking and distancing, disinfection and air circulation. It would provide for regular temperature checks and contact tracing.

Who would like to volunteer to keep masks on thirty five-year-olds at once? No cheating! They can’t touch their faces without sanitizing before and after, and they can’t ever bare their noses. While you’re managing that, make them stay six feet apart. You do that, Karen. We’ll stand back and watch. Don’t forget, some of those kids are asymptomatic!

We already know that many schools don’t have proper ventilation, according to the National Education Association. And how should children safely distance:

  1. on a school bus?
  2. during a fire drill?
  3. during an active shooter drill?
  4. in the bathroom?
  5. during lunch, while maintaining proper ventilation procedures, since they can’t be masked and therefore must be more than six feet apart?

All this while we see the highest COVID-19 numbers yet? We can’t feasibly reopen schools without an ensuing public health disaster.

Let’s Talk About High School

Moreover, high schoolers and COVID-19 don’t mix. Epidemiologists report that teens say they do not report COVID-19 symptoms to prevent quarantine. Because a positive test and the ensuing contact tracing can force other teens into quarantine, they may refuse testing. Even worse, the CDC reports that a South Korean study found teens and tweens are also more likely to spread COVID-19 than young children or adults. A move to reopen schools could be a public health disaster.

Children will come to school simply because they don’t want to sit out a sports game or they can’t miss an AP test if we reopen schools. As our numbers climb higher and higher, more teen will spread the virus, and those contact will spread it to more vulnerable populations, leading to higher hospitalization and death rates. When we reopen schools, we’re asking to overburden already crushed health care systems.

Don’t Reopen Schools, For Hospitals’ Sake

As bad as it is right now, it’s going to get worse. Currently, we’re still seeing spikes from Thanksgiving gatherings. And now, we’ll begin to see surges from Christmas and New Years’ get-togethers. Newsweek reports that the weekend before Christmas — just that weekend — saw more travelers than Thanksgiving. If hospital beds are full now, more states will likely be facing down something like LA’s situation in a few weeks: paramedics forced to deny transport to certain patients, commandeer church gyms, and running out of oxygen.

If we reopen schools, we’ll add to that impending human disaster.

Yes, we’re sick of staying home. Nearly ten months after schools began closing, we’re tired. We’re craving normalcy. But we won’t find it by pretending things are better. We have to stay home. We have to self-isolate. We have to refuse to reopen schools, no matter what the political pressure. It’s a decision that not only keeps children and staff safe; it also reduces the virus’s spread through our communities and eases the burden on health care systems.

Reopening schools as the virus spreads would only add fuel to the fire.

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