Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Carter Mecher was head of a White House task force charged with making a plan to prevent pandemics.  He was contacted by Robert Glass, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, who’d been running computer simulations of pandemics.

Glass’s models indicated that kindergartens and schools were potential petri dishes for the spread of contagious disease.  I don’t think this would have been surprising to most parents and teachers.

At that time, there were more than 100,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., with 50 million children in them.  There were 500,000 school buses in operation, compared to 70,000 in the regular U.S. transportation system.  On an average day, school buses carried twice as many passengers as the entire public transportation system.

Michael Lewis, author of The Premonition, told what happened next.  Becher decided to visit schools. He found school classrooms were more crowded than any other public space.  Chlldren sat, on average, three and a half feet apart; they could touch each other.

In hallways and at bus stops, young children crowded together.  They lacked the adult idea of personal space.  School bus seats were on average 40 inches wide, just wide enough for three children close packed together.

School bus aisles were narrower than aisles of regular buses. Paramedics used special stretchers for school buses because regular stretchers wouldn’t fit.

Becher made videos of homes where the ratio of children to floor space was the same as in public schools.  They looked like refugee prisons, Lewis wrote.

Glass had concluded that closing schools and reducing contacts among children were the key to controlling pandemics.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the present situation, because teachers and children over 12 can get vaccinated.  Many schools try to practice social distancing, although this doesn’t protect from an airborne virus in an enclosed space.  Glass’s model assumed no vaccines and no treatments.

But vaccines don’t eliminate the danger.  They suppress the symptoms of the disease, but they don’t necessarily kill the virus.  Vaccinated people can still be spreaders of the disease.  And vaccines may not be 100 percent effective.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were a parent, except listen to the teachers rather than the politicians or the CDC.

Children in families with a lot of books in the home, who watch educational programs on TV and talk about current events and books around the supper table—the education of these children would not suffer all that much from school lockdowns.

But children in families without books in the home, children with parents who work multiple jobs and don’t have time for suppertime conversations, children who depend on school lunches for their main nourishing meal of the day—these children would be hurt a lot by long-term school closing.

Wearing masks can help some.  Good ventilation can help a lot.  Vaccine mandates for teachers and staff might help, but regular tests for the virus would help more.

The Biden administration needs to realize that Operation Warp Speed didn’t solve the COVID-19 problem.  We also need anti-viral drugs that will do what penicillin and the other antibiotics did for bacterial disease.


Parents Are Not Okay by Dan Sinker for The Atlantic.

The Coming School Opening Train Wreck by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  Excellent.  The comment thread is good, too.

School or Russian Roulette?  Amid Delta Variant and Lax Mask Rules, Some Parents See No Difference by Rae Ellen Bechell for Kaiser Health News.

Covid: the devastating toll of the pandemic on children by Nick Triggle for the BBC.  About harm from the response to the virus.

Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite a Bit of School by Scott Alexander Suskind for Astral Codex Ten.  It’s complicated.

Lockdown Effectiveness: Much More Than You Wanted to Know by Scott Alexander Suskind for Astral Codex Ten.  Yes, it really is complicated.

Long COVID: Much More Than You Wanted to Know by Scott Alexander Suskind for Astral Codex Ten.  [Added 9/2/2021]  DId I remember to say it’s complicated?

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One Response to “Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus”

  1. dolphinwrite Says:

    Schools, as they are, create mental health problems. Often, the counselors are the problem, including administrations without any real student management skills. Because teachers go along with the “system,” they are also the cause of many problems. Some, a few, may be “good” teachers, but if they go along with propaganda, with a horrible curriculum, and terrible social designs, they are guilty. Very guilty.


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