By David M. Greenwald
As a parent I get it—distance learning really isn’t great for nine- and ten-year-old students. They are stir crazy. Staring at a screen is a pain—literally. They miss their friends. They want to run around and play. And the quality of the education isn’t nearly as good.
But as a parent who is in the high risk category, I am not going to risk my health at this point when there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not with daily cases surging to over 180,000 last week. Not with 70,000 new hospitalizations in a single day and 1300 more people dead—a number that is sure to rise.
Pfizer last week announced a vaccine that is 90 percent effective, and, today, Moderna’s vaccine is 94.5 percent effective. That tells us that there is a good chance a vaccine will work. Now the issue is to act responsibly so that thousands of people don’t needlessly die while we are waiting for the vaccine to come out.
There are parents that are literally itching for the schools to re-open. The school district will decide soon. It figures to be a hugely contentious issue.
Owen Yancher in his column in the Enterprise writes about St. James School, noting that “thus far, their vigilance has paid off. Not one St. James student has tested positive for COVID-19.”
He quotes their principal, Heather Church, being encouraged by the results, “We’re encouraged,” Church said. “Those that have returned are expressing how wonderful it is to have their kids back, not only receiving an education in-person, but for the social, emotional and developmental impact it has.
“But we also realize we have to stay vigilant through the Thanksgiving holiday so we can have a safe return later on,” she added. “We want to keep those in Davis and the rest of Yolo County safe as well.”
And there is a push from hundreds of parents in DJUSD to get Davis students back into the classroom.
Mike Creedon from the Davis Parent Coalition sent the Vanguard a note that they have 317 signatures since November 10 urging the district to reopen “schools for in-person instruction by late winter as authorized by the state on October 14, 2020.”
That might be possible, depending on where we are with respect to a vaccine and where the curve is on COVID.
Last week, Yolo County narrowly avoided going into the purple, but it’s close. And the way COVID is surging across the country, California has fared better than most—but is now really the time to make these decisions?
The group argues, “Medical professionals advising the parent coalition recommended using the November 2020 Evidence and Guidance for In-Person Schooling During the COVID-19 Pandemic” to inform reopening recommendations.
They want a plan for reopening no later than January 7—that seems a bit too soon for my taste.
They write: “Parents who are taking time off work or organizing child care need to know in advance when children will return to school, as well as need an opportunity to review and comment on a draft plan. We recommend the District propose this plan at either a November or December Board of Trustees meeting, including a timeline for reopening, mitigation strategies, a public outreach strategy, and a contingency plan in case of an outbreak.”
There is light here. The Pfizer vaccine could be available, at least for emergency use, by the end of next month (also the end of the year).
But guess what? While supporters of Trump have trumpeted this innovation, the president not only has checked out in terms of fighting the virus right now, but also in terms of a plan for how to distribute the vaccine.
The New York Times reports that “states and cities are warning that distributing the shots to an anxious public could be hindered by inadequate technology, severe funding shortfalls and a lack of trained personnel.”
They write: “While the Trump administration has showered billions of dollars on the companies developing the vaccines, it has left the logistics of inoculating and tracking as many as 20 million people by year’s end — and many tens of millions more next year — largely to local governments without providing enough money, officials in several localities and public health experts involved in the preparations said in interviews.”
It’s not enough to have the vaccine ready—it must be distributed, and that takes money and planning that some people don’t seem to recognize.
According to the article, “The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have sent $200 million to the states for the effort, with another $140 million promised in December, but state and local officials said that was billions of dollars short of what would be needed to carry out their complex plans.”
So how have school districts done that have re-opened? According to an article in Forbes, the surge of COVID cases that was expected did not take place. But with the rise of COVID cases nationally, re-openings have slowed to a trickle.
Moreover, throughout October, schools disruptions “were already on the rise in several states” and many “districts were going back to remote learning.”
An article out over the weekend in the New York Times showed, “The news that hundreds of thousands of parents and educators had been awaiting arrived at 9:45 on Sunday morning, in a tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio: New York City’s test positivity rate remained below 3 percent.”
Their seven-day average remained under three percent.
Indeed, “seven weeks after he managed to restart the system, the mayor is facing fresh questions about how and whether to close it: Should he stick to the 3 percent threshold he set months ago, or should he revise it, given that recent data shows that schools seem to have relatively few infections?”
On the other hand, “In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds has set the state’s closure threshold at 15 percent.”
The Times adds: “Debates about when and how to reopen schools come as America is experiencing a stunning surge in cases in most parts of the country, forcing some districts to either delay their reopening plans or cancel in-person classes altogether. The United States reported more than 159,000 new cases on Saturday alone.”
Given where we are in the pandemic, why not wait a month or two to see where a vaccine is before we risk exposing a ton of people to more spread in a community that has largely been spared from outbreak, in part because we have been so cautious?
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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