Posts Tagged ‘The Premonition’

Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus

August 25, 2021

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.

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Why the U.S. failed to avert the pandemic (1)

July 20, 2021

Michael Lewis’s The Premonition tells stories of Americans who foresaw the danger of a pandemic and created workable plans and technologies to fight it, but in the end were brushed aside.

He throws light on U.S. unpreparedness to deal with pandemic disease and how COVID-19 was allowed to take hold when it could have been eradicated.

The stories of his heroes are oddly inspirational, even though they mostly failed in the end.  Their plans and inventions were usually not tried, or tried too late.  They were like Winston Churchill’s in a world in which he was never called to power and World War Two ended in stalemate.

Lewis’s book leaves off in the spring of 2020 when it became plain that a pandemic was not going to be averted.  Andy Slavitt’s Preventable takes up the story at that point. 

Slavitt’s provided a good overview of the Trump administration’s failures, but I learned little that was new to me.  Lewis’s book is more fragmentary, but his insights are deeper and his writing is much more readable.

The back stories of Lewis’s heroes are as illuminating as their responses to the pandemic.  I’ll just give the highlights of one of them.

Charity Dean was public health officer for Santa Barbara County, California.  In 2013. she was alerted that a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara had symptoms of meningitis B, a rare infectious disease that attacked healthy young people and could kill them in hours.  The test for the disease was inconclusive.

She asked the Centers for Disease Control what to do.  The CDC advised her to do nothing.  She didn’t have enough data.  She ordered the university medical authorities to test any student with a low-grade fever four the disease.  Three tested positive.  The CDC still advised her to do nothing.

Instead she ordered lockdowns of the fraternities and sororities and to gave the 1,200 students a prophylactic (preventive medicine).  Over the objections of the CDC, she thinned out the dormitories by sending some students into hotel rooms, shut down intramural sports and administered a vaccine that had been approved in Europe, but not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

There were no more cases.  Two years later, the CDC drew up a plan for best practices for an outbreak of meningitis B, which included most of the things Dr. Dean had done.

Another time she was faced with the decision as to what to do about a home for the elderly, which was within the path of a possible mudslide that would kill them all. 

Meteorologists said there was a 20 percent chance of such a mudslide.  The medical director of the home said that maybe 5 percent of the 100 residents were so frail to they would die if they were moved.

Based on those figures, she ordered the evacuation.  Seven of the old people died.  There was no mudslide.

A short time later, Karen Smith, public health director for the state of California, asked Dean to become deputy state public health director. 

Dean asked, Why me?  Smith answered, Because you make decisions.

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