This op-ed was written on January 25, 2021 and published on January 31, 2021 in the Florida Times Union through the “USA Today” news network as a guest columnist. The Times Union is the major newspaper for a metroplex of 1.6 million people.
Here is the original essay from the Florida Times Union:
“Cold Covid Realities”
Britain recently closed its schools to fight the new, more infectious mutation that is spreading. First, they shut down almost everything else except the schools, but the number of infections per day kept rising. They closed the schools, and the number of infections per day stopped going up—cause and effect. This is observational evidence, not proof, but good evidence that schools are not as safe as we would like to pretend.
Open the schools in a hundred days is a political statement that is not science-based. It is understandable but disappointing to hear this coming from our new science-based President. What’s the difference between Trump’s “Rounding the corner” and Biden’s “100 days,” not all that much.
The CDC stated we can open schools safely if all safety guidelines are followed, including low community infection rate, masks, and social distancing. This is largely what the CDC has been saying all along. We obviously do need our schools open because it seems many people do not know the difference between “can” and “should.”
The critical point all this magical “open the schools up now” public thinking misses is that we don’t have the resources to both fully open most schools while simultaneously also maintaining CDC recommendations. At this point, with the infection facts on the ground, we can only partially open some of our schools, which does not solve any of the major complaints and could make things worse.
We should all be so tired of this magical diatomic thinking that “schools are safe” and not a significant source of infection. Britain, Israel, and many other countries have found this grossly oversimplified statement to be largely false. The Covid Monitor reporting +500,000 students and staff infected in the USA shows this oversimplified statement to be dangerous.
We need to stop all the magical thinking here in the good old USA. It is not good for our health. The unspun complicated truth is that schools can be made safe enough so that when the infection rate is low, they can be opened with minimal deaths and suffering, but those are a lot of ifs that require a lot of dollars. Also, since when did minimal deaths and suffering become an acceptable goal for any public school? One school shooting, and the country goes insane, and should. Are far more teachers and students dying of covid now okay? Because that is what is happening right now with schools partially opened.
Give teachers priority vaccinations. Give the schools enough space for social distancing. Give the schools equipment to filter the air. Give schools N95 masks. Give schools rapid testing. Give high-risk teachers virtual classes. If we do these things, we can open more schools. But do you really think this will make the pandemic go away and our schools normal? School will remain a surreal experience for the foreseeable future until this coronavirus pandemic is licked, after which our schools will not magically heal themselves from the structural damage they have borne for decades.
We have had a growing national teacher shortage for years due to our utter neglect and, in some cases outright hostility, toward the very same public education system that we now consider part of our critical infrastructure. Thirty percent of teachers are at higher risk of serious covid complications, including death. Ten percent of all people infected with covid end up long haulers, which is the next national crisis we will face after this novel coronavirus pandemic has ended. Estimates are that over thirty percent of the population will end up infected with covid. That translates into over 10,000,000 long haulers, that’s our neighbors, our family, our friends, and our teachers. This reality will not help our national teacher shortage but make it worse.
Many schools have been ignoring basic CDC safety standards all along. We have kids infected with covid knowingly allowed into the classroom. We have masks scoffed at. We have crowded hallways and classrooms. We have contact tracing that takes a week or more to notify people of an infection in a classroom. We have an environment of fear keeping teachers from speaking out. Federal and state OSHA data reveals over 780 safety complaints in over 2,000 K-12 schools, and this is only the visible drop in the invisible bucket. Do we really think any of this will improve as schools are opened up even more, and the system is strained even more?
Past actions predict future results. This means schools will remain operating at far less than full capacity since we will not give them the classroom space they need, the N95 masks, the filtered air, or even priority access to vaccines. We will not hire enough additional teachers to teach in all the additional uncrowded classrooms that would be needed. All that will happen is we will keep stamping our feet, demanding a magical solution, which sadly proves how badly we have needed a healthy, well fed public education system in our country for all these decades it has been under attack and deprivation.
This op-ed was written while we were living in Northern Florida during the pandemic. The madness that occurred in Florida due to far-right politics overriding commonsense and safety is implicit in this essay. The city of one million where we lived was hard hit. Early on in the pandemic, for a period of weeks, we become the national epicenter of the pandemic. We had freezer truck morgues and everything else imaginable and unimaginable, and yet, most of the people surrounding us continued to deny the reality of covid.
All throughout the pandemic, the majority of the people in our area refused to wear masks. Many taunted and threatened those who did wear masks. Many believed vaccines were part of a capitalistic conspiracy and ivermectin was the cure. Our own doctor, unsolicited, advised us to take ivermectin as a preventative measure. When we went to get a vaccine booster, we were the first people to do so because almost no one was getting vaccinated. To this day, only about 60% of the people are vaccinated.
We left Florida in June 2022 after living there for five years. Prior to Florida, we had lived in Los Angeles. Estimates are that approximately 30% of the people who moved during the pandemic did so partially or completely for political reasons. When we fled Florida, we felt like domestic political refugees and still do.
This op-ed is a little harsh, but I felt it had to be because far too many of us keep dealing with complex issues far too simplistically, and I include in this group politicians who are using slogans instead of sentences to communicate.
We are at war with an unthinking virus. We need to learn to play well together, or we will keep stumbling into each other, hurting everyone. We need to wear masks, socially distance, and support our schools and teachers. We need to stop making demands and start making solutions. Teachers and teachers unions are not the enemy. The teachers unions are not all-powerful greedy monsters. In 60% of the states, such as Florida, the teachers unions do not even have the legal right to strike. Historically, teachers are underpaid, overworked, and not given the basic resources they need to do their job. We, the people, failed to support them with the school shooting pandemic. Now we, the people, are failing to support them with the covid pandemic and forcing a life and death experiment in our public schools (largely Fauci’s words*, not mine). Is it any wonder highly educated teachers are so concerned for the kids and themselves?
* Fauci addressed teachers in August 2020 and told them that given the lack of data on COVID-19 and schools, teachers would be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know. Fauci also said very much the same thing in July 2020.
References and further reading: