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For Schoolchildren, There Are Many More Serious Threats Than COVID

Over the last 18 months, based on CDC numbers, about 466 of every 200,000 people in Connecticut have died of COVID-19. Yet, the daily average for deaths this summer from COVID is vanishingly small, given that over 80% of adults are now vaccinated.

In even greater contrast, the odds of a young person, aged 19 and under, dying of COVID has been 1 in 200,000 over the entire course of the pandemic. The odds of them committing suicide is roughly 20 times that number.

In actual numbers, not rates, 1 young person aged 10 and younger, and 3 people aged 11 to 19 have died of COVID-19 in Connecticut, according to data provided by the state medical examiner. By comparison, 11 children in Connecticut in 2019 died of abuse or neglect.

As we approach the opening of schools, it would seem clear that schools should open for normal in-person instruction with a minimum of special safety precautions. Our focus should shift to the many likely more serious threats to schoolchildren when deprived of normal education.

That’s not to say that a few young people don’t sometimes get seriously ill from the virus.

An estimated 40 out of every 100,000 children under the age of 18 in Connecticut have been hospitalized for COVID – and some young people (and adults) may suffer long-term consequences, though the data on on this point remains, at best, murky. You can read the latest study on that here.

Yet, in any given year, for every 100,000 people living in Connecticut about 200 are victims of potentially life-altering violent crime. 8 die in car crashes. 5 are killed by firearms. 1 drowns. Somewhat fewer are hit and killed by cars. About 20 are victims of forcible rape. And about 50 males for every 100,000 will die from accidental poisoning or exposure to chemicals and solvents.

But for people under the age of 18, the most recent weekly data show that few if any are hospitalized for COVID in Connecticut.

And even spread across a population of 3.6 million in a state that tilts older than the rest of the United States, the hospitalization rate, even though recently rising, is not alarming at all.

When including the unvaccinated in Connecticut, the current daily average of deaths annualizes to 7 for every 100,000.

Whether those numbers change significantly for the worse in the fall remains an open question – and will likely reflect a balance of widespread vaccination, new variants, better therapies, and changing patterns of behavior, including testing and masking.

In the last few days CT Examiner reached out to a number of prominent doctors directly involved with treating and studying the illness, long-haul cases and pediatrics, and our takeaway was caution and concern, but not the sense of immediacy and alarm expressed in previous calls.

No doubt, the doctors are influenced by the positive data on vaccinations.

With over 164 million data points (each a vaccination) to learn from – and after 2.3 million vaccinations in Connecticut alone – it is abundantly clear that vaccination for COVID-19, while not absolutely free of risk, is both safe and effective. The chance of anaphylaxis is between 2 and 5 people out of a million.

And so-called “breakthrough” infections?

According to recent data collected by NBC News fewer than 1 in every 100,000 people vaccinated has died of COVID-19.  Many of those, according to the same data, are elderly and in nursing homes.

Of course, all of these numbers are unevenly distributed, and unevenly reported, can be endlessly debated, and are a moving target. Exponential growth curves also demand added care.

But what’s pretty clear is that if you have been vaccinated, and you live in Connecticut – rather than Arkansas where the death rate from COVID is about 35 times Connecticut’s numbers — you should feel safe going about your life with a modicum of caution.

And for young people, though the death rate has never been high, we’ve reached the point where it’s fair to say that the downsides of social isolation – added stress, learning difficulties, fewer opportunities to identify and stop abuse – likely outweigh any present benefits of remote learning.

A troublesome new variant, or hospitals overwhelmed with the unvaccinated, and all this may go out the window.

We expect Gov. Ned Lamont to act to require masks in public schools, but we think the costs and benefits are worth weighing on a case-by-case basis starting with language learners and special education and with vaccinated children over the age of 12.  In some cases, students, classes or even entire schools may reasonably decide to return, with care, to normal education.

We fear that the children most vulnerable to the downsides of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID, are also the most likely to have such measures required.

Yes, the CDC is recommending masks for everyone indoors—advice that is not binding — but you have to wonder whether we’ll save more lives focusing on school, medical and nursing home staff who are not vaccinated. Last night, with an executive order requiring vaccinations for staff at nursing facilities, Lamont took a step in that direction.

You might also reasonably ask why a binding ruling by CDC regarding masks on public transportation has never been enforced in Connecticut.

If the intent – and I think it is – is to encourage vaccinations, then a blanket mandate for the vaccinated to wear masks is undoubtedly counterproductive. But whether you have previously contracted COVID or not, we strongly encourage you to vaccinate.


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