This week began with a call by me for a calm and cautious approach, but events unfurled rapidly and changed the calculus of what such an approach looked like. Shutting down schools, limiting public events and exercises in social distancing became prudent; buying out toilet paper and water less so.
On Friday, the DJUSD school board took the step that on Monday would have looked extreme and on Friday seemed par for the course—they are closing down the schools until April 12. The reality is that we probably will not see them open again this school year.
Governor Newsom (see separate article) signed an executive order which will ensure districts retain state funding even in the event of physical closure. Importantly, “The order directs school districts to use those state dollars to fund distance learning and high quality educational opportunities, provide school meals and, as practicable, arrange for the supervision for students during school hours.”
DJUSD has already announced they will continue with meals for needy students.
They have not taken steps to ensure distance learning—but, given the timeframe of the announced closure which will cancel three weeks of classes as well as the week of spring break, we might expect an announcement of distance learning at some point in the near future.
The decision was not made lightly. At first the directive from the county health officials urged essential functions and social distancing.
Board President Cindy Pickett said she strongly supported Superintendent Bowes’ decision to close schools temporarily.
She stated, “We have been diligently monitoring the COVID-19 situation, conferring with Yolo County Public Health Department and other partners. This is the right time for this decision. It is important to be proactive rather than reactive. It will help to save lives.”
Vice President, Joe DiNunzio offered, “The District is working under very difficult circumstances with changing facts by the day. While no known student or staff member in Davis Joint Unified School District has been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of today, we believe that the growing spread will likely result in more cases in Yolo County or possibly our school district. This decision by the Superintendent is the right call and supported by all Trustees.”
And as much as it will be an inconvenience for parents such as myself, this is the right move. Many parents were taking the step to keep their kids out of school even before this occurred.
The Bee ran an article yesterday: “Temporary school closures likely won’t stop coronavirus spread, CDC says.”
In it, they cite CDC officials that argue: “Regular hand washing and home isolation for students with symptoms likely have more impact than closing schools for two weeks to a month.”
“There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modeling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., hand washing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report.
“I would say the jury’s still out. There’s disagreement among experts. The evidence is clearly reasonably strong for (school closures limiting the spread of) flu, but this isn’t flu,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a former Maryland health department secretary.
“Kids get very, very sick from flu, and kids don’t seem to be getting very sick from this virus,” he said. “So to the extent to which kids are passing it on to each other is really unknown and the sense to which they’re infectious to adults is not well characterized. There are a lot of unknowns still.”
The Vanguard spoke with School Board President Cindy Pickett about these findings. The school board, she told me, was aware of the study, but pointed out that this simply means that closing schools for a month is not going to make a huge difference—in fact, re-opening schools too early could simply re-start the epidemic.
I was pointed to a 2007 AMA Journal study which looked at the 1918-1919 pandemic.
They note in their abstract: “The historical record demonstrates that when faced with a devastating pandemic, many nations, communities, and individuals adopt what they perceive to be effective social distancing measures or nonpharmaceutical interventions including isolation of those who are ill, quarantine of those suspected of having contact with those who are ill, school and selected business closure, and public gathering cancellations.”
What they found was “a growing body of theoretical modeling research suggests that nonpharmaceutical interventions might play a salubrious role in delaying the temporal effect of a pandemic; reducing the overall and peak attack rate; and reducing the number of cumulative deaths.”
They found: “School closure and public gathering bans activated concurrently represented the most common combination implemented in 34 cities (79%); this combination had a median duration of 4 weeks (range, 1-10 weeks) and was significantly associated with reductions in weekly EDR.”
Understanding that coronavirus primarily impacts with severe cases and death older and vulnerable people, while the flu hammers the school population, the evidence still shows that children can get and spread coronavirus and, as any parent knows, you get sick more often when you have young children than ever before or since.
I probably went two decades between flu episodes, but I have gotten the flu of some sort every year since I’ve had young children.
The studies suggest that duration of closure is correlated with fewer deaths. This does not contradict the CDC modelling that suggests short term closures are ineffective.
Second, the earlier you close, the more likely you are to reduce deaths. People asked if DJUSD even had a confirmed case—they do not, and there are only two such confirmed cases in the county. Why should we wait until there is— read this article from FiveThirtyEight.com as they explain why the NBA shut down after just one case, because of how many players were exposed based on that one case, and the same lesson applies here.
Cindy Pickett told the Vanguard that “being proactive is better than being reactive.”
She told the Vanguard, “So, I would take the two studies to mean that closing early and for a long enough duration is critical for flattening the curve. There needs to be federal and state support to mitigate the negative impact of these closures.”
The good news is that the state has stepped up and, after some delay in the response from the federal government, they are too. The bad news—this is not going to be a matter of weeks, it’s going to be a matter of months.
—David M. Greenwald reporting