Yesterday, I laid into conservatives for questioning the effectiveness of wearing masks and not pushing back against disinformation that has made people question whether the coronavirus is much of a danger. Today, I’m going to take liberals to task. If they’re going to preach, “listen to the experts” and “follow the science,” then they should support reopening schools. 

This weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that we should “try as best as possible within reason to keep the children in school, or to get them back to school.” In Europe, where schools have largely stayed open, there’s no evidence that schools are a major spreader of the virus. Three studies, including one in the U.S., have shown that schools are not superspreader events and a study of people working in child care showed no difference in cases between those who stopped working after the virus hit and those who continued to provide care. 

Obviously, we need to take measures to protect children, teachers, and school personnel. States and counties should provide the resources to set up safety procedures like testing and tracing, temperature checks, mask requirements, and even smaller classrooms. Accommodations should be made for children who are surviving and even thriving with distance learning. As vaccines roll out, teachers and school personnel should be among the first to get them. We can make schools safe with the right guidelines and proper investments. That’s what the science and data tells us. 

A recent study has also shown that distance learning is having a negative impact on students. Overall, children will need seven to twelve weeks to catch up in math and reading. Students from minority communities and rural areas have been disproportionately harmed by distance learning. Long-term effects could include higher dropout rates as well as “greater income disparities, higher crime rates, and low economic growth.”

As a parent of two school aged children, I can tell you that distance learning is not working in our household. I worry that the impact will harm my daughter’s options for college. My son’s motivation to succeed in school has clearly waned. And these are just the academic impacts. Both children are at crucial points in their social educations and instead of learning how to interact with peers who are barreling toward adulthood, they are confined to digital communications with their friends and fellow students. I am not optimistic that this experience is going to turn out well for them. 

I am not cavalier about this disease. I have parents in their mid-80s and a newborn grandson. As a middle-aged man with a cancer diagnosis, I’m probably considered high risk. I also know that the people of greatest risk are older and/or in poor health. More than 80% of the people who have died from the disease are over 65 years old. The case mortality rate is about 2% and that’s probably high since millions of people are undiagnosed because their symptoms were so mild. There are certainly concerns about unknown and poorly understood long term effects of the virus, but there are also concerns about long term effects of keeping kids out of schools, including the health impacts of poverty. 

The failure in our country has clearly been the national response, or lack of one, to the pandemic. We could have done far more to contain the virus and protect the most vulnerable. We should have had a substantial testing and tracing program that could isolate cases and prevent spread. Now, with a vaccine on the way, we need to head off the collateral damage of the coronavirus by paying more attention to our future. We can’t claim to believe in science only when it’s convenient or matches our political agenda. As Fauci says, “close the bars and open the schools.” 

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