Here’s my latest unpopular opinion, at least among people who generally agree with me. We should be reopening schools and our reaction and response to the coronavirus has been driven more by hysteria than reality. The damage we are doing to our children is unknown, but it’s certainly more harmful to them than the disease itself. The risk to the teachers and school personnel is minimal with the right precautions.
The New York Times Magazine this weekend had an article that focused on Rhode Island, a Democratic state that kept their schools open. The state has shown that schools can open safely with the proper precautions and adjustments to schedules. They have not been major sources of community spread and have not seen significant spikes among school personnel.
The threat of the disease to young people is tiny. Our children are far more likely to die or get injured from any myriad of activities than COVID. Elementary and middle school-aged children are more likely to die in a bicycle accident and far more likely to suffer long term injury from them. Among people under 35, COVID is not even in the top five causes of death. Younger Americans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide and about 50% more likely to be murdered than die of COVID-19.
We’re keeping schools closed to primarily protect staff. COVID is far more deadly among older people and, while the spike starts at people over 35 years old, it’s not too serious until people are over 65. Even then, people below retirement age are about twice as likely to die of either heart disease or cancer than COVID. If we took curbing those deaths as seriously as we take COVID, we would close all the fast food joints for a year. That would probably save far more lives than closing schools.
Social media and click-bait headlines drive much of the fear. On Twitter this morning, one woman posted a story from the New York Times to illustrate the threat of opening schools. The headline read “Covid-Linked Syndrome in Children Is Growing and Cases Are More Severe.” While the syndrome is disturbing, it’s also extremely rare. Only about 2,000 case have been reported in the country and only 30 resulted in deaths. It’s Jon Benet Ramsey for COVID. Instead of a murderous stranger waiting to break into our house and kill your children, it’s a disease that will be largely harmless to more than 99.9% of the people under 20 who get it and, yet, we are terrified of it.
Unfortunately, COVID has become politicized like everything else in our society. If Democrats responded to hysteria, Republicans responded with denial. The disease is deadly and we need unprecedented actions and protections. It’s the leading cause of death, even if those deaths disproportionally impact older people. The right’s insistence on opposing any measures to keep people safe has resulted in community spread and a fallacy that the disease isn’t real.
We failed at the beginning of the pandemic and the blame rests mostly on Trump and his administration. They did not establish any sort of national response or plan. Instead of educating people, they insisted the disease was either a hoax or a Democratic plot. We should have used the initial shutdown last spring to put in place protections and programs that would have allowed us to open more safely like most other wealthy nations. Their response cost tens of thousands of lives.
I believe that closing the schools last March was the right move. We knew too little about the virus and we needed to get it under control. That gave us six months to figure out how to get our children back in school by September. We failed them.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Democrats and Republicans listened more to the activists in their parties more than the experts. They spent too much time arguing about whether or not to open schools than figuring out how to open them and keep people in schools safe as well as protecting those students who live in households with vulnerable family members. We didn’t do it and our kids will pay the price.
I speak as the parent of two school aged children, both of whom are struggling in this time. I commend their teachers and support staff for trying to keep them engaged, but the effort is not sufficient. My children, especially the one in high school, will almost certainly suffer consequences of remote learning long after we have the coronavirus under control. At least the experience will be shared by others of her generation, but I suspect we won’t know the full impact on their generation for years and that the costs will likely be high. We should have done better.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >