A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Teachers and Covid19 Virus Policy

We now know that for a year, the Trump administration and political conservatives semi-covertly pushed let-it-eat herd immunity on the nation directly through the CDC in a toxic mix of politics and faux science.

Open the schools the drum beat went month after month.

By the time all the kids and teachers brought the disease to school and took it home to family, full levels of infection could be achieved with deadly speed. Youth and teachers were the perfect ages of 5-55 concentrated in one place to achieve the level of saturation politically conservative herders wanted.  So, the messaging was, ‘children don’t get it; if they do it’s not serious; and children don’t spread it.’  Never mind that would be unlike most of the other contagions known to medicine.

The business sector was on board believing this would allow them to completely open the economy and move on beyond the pandemic.  If the schools are open, the economy will be open.  Their public stance now is the same as a year ago.

Then came the new administration. This morning, almost a month into the new presidency, the Today Show and the Vice President were continuing to repeat the litany: Open the Schools; Schools do not contribute to community spread- So goes the chorus all the major outlets and the CDC continue to repeat.  The only difference is that the new administration messaging includes: Open Schools now, but do try to observe social distancing, masking and hand washing.  All will be well, studies say so.   (Never mind that half the population who voted for Trump still believe mask wearing is optional).

In response to the Presidents’ dictum that all schools open in 100 days, districts across the country are opening simultaneously.  By mid-March, most schools will have all students in school at least 2-4 days a week except those whose parents refuse.  As the result of a concentrated push on school boards from across the national spectrum (media, the administration, superintendents, health departments, and conservative think-tanks), the school buildings will be open.  

Teachers’ grassroots groups and a few of their stronger union districts have been the sole push back against the new modified plan. Like prophets of old, or the street corner vagabond, they have continued to cry, Beware! Go Back! Danger!

But no one is listening. Their cries now go unheeded. Their messaging once viral, is minimized by current algorithms, and their voices drowned in the numbers major corporate outlets can command. With the assistance of long-time school critics from the religious right, they are dismissed and name-called into diminished disdain, and parents who once shared their concern for protecting the children have run out of patience with the virus.

In despair, there seems little chance to stall the march to full opening until it is safer, and faculties are making plans to try and survive as best they can, even as districts are hyping their “mediation strategies” showing videos of school openings with adults within one or two feet of students, and students unmasked on campus.  Even as districts already opened are suppressing publication of infection numbers and abstaining from doing testing or contact tracing to make sure their publicized low numbers will be accepted.  In recent days some districts have even gone so far as refusing to show demographics on cases for children under 20.

But the nation and parents need to know:

For every custom designed study meant to show no spread, there is a real-life example of increased spread from countries a step ahead of us in the pandemic policies.  In India children were shown as superspreaders. The UK is reclosing schools. Sweden’s teachers were twice as likely to become infected due to herd immunity policies.  Philadelphia’s children’s hospital has found blood markers of internal vascular damage in children who had mild to no symptoms but tested positive.  Princeton’s studies draw opposite conclusions to Yale’s.

Yes, we have vaccines for adults, but most districts have inoculated well under 50% of their staffs, and the goal has never been just to protect adults. Teachers have been making their case to protect students and their whole school community.

By fall 2021 we will have adults vaccinated and be moving in on a vaccine for children.  Full inoculation of adults will offer some protection from spread among children.

However, if we return to school before more vaccine saturation with community infection numbers high and with new strains looming on the horizon, showing a potential trajectory similar to the original C19 in winter 2020- we stand to sabotage our chances of getting on top of the next outbreaks, and risk plunging ourselves and our families into a new crisis.

So, though teacher voices may be hard to hear from the wilderness, as they are name called, ridiculed, and marginalized, strain to hear the teachers and school staffs as they plead: Beware! Go Back! Danger!

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