The evidence is piling up that schoolchildren, teachers and staff are safe in schools. Indeed, the evidence suggests schools are the “safest place” for them to be, as CDC Director Robert Redfield said last November. Yet, teacher unions and other school employee organizations are ignoring mounting evidence that support Redfield’s words.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released its first two studies of in-school spread of COVID-19, first, a study of the experience of 17 Wisconsin schools that operated in-person from August through November, and, second, a review of reports from around the world about COVID-19 contagion in schools.
In the Wisconsin study, there were only seven (7) cases of in-school infection – only of students – among 4,900 students and 650 teachers and staff, who wore masks and practiced social distancing. The second study reached essentially the same conclusion that there is little spread of the virus in schools.
Here in Connecticut, there’s similar evidence. The Greenwich public school system is one of the few big districts in the state which have operated in-person. Greenwich has followed a full five-day schedule for all but one week of this school year, excepting only approximately 15% of the town’s students and teachers who opted for fully remote learning from the start. The Greenwich district is comprised of 16 schools with 9,100 students and well over 1,000 staff. As of the beginning of winter break on February 5th, the town has recorded seventeen (17) individuals infected in-school during the school year so far.
Indeed, it may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that schools are an oasis. While Greenwich has recorded 79 COVID-19 fatalities, none have originated in school.
Yet opposition to in-school instruction is building, not moderating. Last week, the Hartford Courant reported that Fran Rabinowitz, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) warned about a possible retreat from in-person schooling in late February and March if COVID-19 cases spike as a result of the new more contagious strains of the virus now circulating in the state.
Rabinowitz may have confined herself to “an informal warning,” but, according to the News Times, the Danbury Superintendent Sal Pascarella said he was “going to try to really make the case to see if we can – pardon the expression – jump ahead of the line to get our teachers and staff in there [vaccinated],” by implication, before reopening the city’s schools which have been closed all year.
That’s an outrageous request at a time when only 35% of citizens over the age of 75 have been vaccinated; over 80% of COVID-19 fatalities in the state have been people over age 70. Virtually all teachers are younger.
Superintendents seem to be lining up behind the state teacher union, the Connecticut Education Association, which has been trying for months to close down all schools. As the second wave of the pandemic gathered momentum in the fall, the CEA sent Lamont a petition demanding that all schools be closed from Thanksgiving through mid-January.
Nationally, CDC data shows only 205 school-age deaths from the virus, about the same number of kids who died of the seasonal flu in the 2019-2020 school year (195). Moreover, kids rarely suffer serious cases. There have been only 1,300 school-age children hospitalized out of a total of 131,000 total COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide, for which the CDC has complete demographic data
Nevertheless, in mid-January, CEA president Jeff Leake continued his close-the-schools campaign citing data from the American Academy of Pediatrics showing “nearly 179,000 COVID-19 cases in children in just the last week of December, bringing the total reported cases in children to more than two million [2.6 million as of 1/21/21].”
That sounds alarming, right?
Not at all, the very next sentence in the AAP report said “At least 172 children had died as of Dec. 17. About 1.8% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and 0.07% of the deaths have been among children [percentages still roughly accurate].” The CDC and AAP percentages align, while AAP data reflects higher numbers than the CDC, because, again, the CDC waits for full demographic information.
Now that data and reports are mounting that in-school instruction does not cause much spread, the evidence – the science – weighs in favor of keeping schools open and re-opening those which have been closed. Are we going to follow the science or fall prey to scaremongering?
Instead of stoking fear about a possible spike from the new strains of the virus, we should focus upon the definite impact of the vaccinations now underway. We are only weeks away from COVID deaths in Connecticut going to near-zero and serious cases dropping drastically.
Why? Because we have finished vaccinating nursing home residents and staff, where over half of Connecticut’s COVID-19 fatalities have taken place. Now, the state is vaccinating all citizens over 75 and soon will start vaccinating those over 65. To repeat, including nursing home fatalities, over 80% of deaths from the virus have been people over age 70. The only elderly now dying are those infected before they could be vaccinated.
Logically, most of the serious cases requiring hospitalization are the elderly, many of whom, tragically, later die. Soon, serious cases will plummet. Nationally, CDC data shows that about 45% of hospitalizations are people over 60.
To his credit, Governor Lamont weighed in last Thursday, according to the CT Post: “Lamont clarified on Thursday he didn’t believe the [virus] variants will result in schools going back to fully remote as they were last spring. Right now, I think the vaccines are going to be able to stay ahead of whatever risk there is there.”
Now is not the time to close schools, to delay re-opening schools or to jump mostly-younger teachers ahead of their much more vulnerable elders in the line for vaccinations. Indeed, on February 3, new CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated.”
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.