Last night, Chapel Hill/Carrborro City Schools changed their mind. Students for at least the first quarter of the upcoming academic year will be taught remotely. The previously announced plan had been a hybrid model where most students would be taught in person two days a week and remotely three days a week. However, significant push back and questions about how the district would respond when (not if, but when) students and teachers are infected as we live in a region with broad community spread at the moment would be treated. Current recommendations for people who are in close proximity for prolonged periods of time with an infected individual is for a fourteen day quarantine. My colleague, co-author, collaborator and friend, Dr. Charlene Wong, wrote that this unexpected shock is likely to be extremely disruptive to families in the fall:
You’ve just been notified that a child in your daughter’s class has tested positive for COVID-19 and that your daughter has to quarantine at home for 14 days. Questions start racing through your mind. Who‘s going to watch her for the next two weeks — especially since she has been exposed to COVID-19? Can I take time off from work, or will I lose my job if I do? Will we have enough money for food and rent? ….
unpredictable quarantines will be severely disruptive. With schools closed, parents across the country were mostly in the same difficult boat as they juggled parenting with other personal and professional responsibilities. This will not be the case in the fall as states and school districts take different approaches to reopening, and individual children and classrooms are unexpectedly quarantined.
It did not need to be this way.
We decided as a society that opening up bars for six weeks was more important than opening up schools for several months. We as a society have decided that wearing a mask is a point of contention instead of basic human decency and active citizenship. We as a society have decided to waste a season.
Just astonishing. If you remove New York State from the equation, here's our progress with this epidemic since March 5th. Congrats, everyone. pic.twitter.com/eHz0NblTCX
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 16, 2020
New England, New York and New Jersey might not have to worry about too many unanticipated school based quarantines as they have spent a season actively smashing uncontrolled community spread. As of this morning, Maine is identifying 13 new cases per million residents per day, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York are each identifying 36, 36, and 37 new cases per million residents per day respectively. These are levels of community spread where aggressive contact tracing combined with isolation and frequent testing can keep risk levels low. On the other hand, Florida has 519 new cases per million residents per day. 7 states including Texas have over 300 new cases per million residents per day. Six more states, including California, have between 200 and 300 new cases per million residents per day. At this level of community spread, contact tracing with the current resource allocation is a farce.
After my wife and I were told that the schools would be closed for at least the first quarter, my wife turned to me and said: “I never thought this would go on so long”
It will go on for as long as we value opening up bars instead of doing the mundane, boring and grinding work of smashing community spread. We wasted at least one season, and we might be wasting another.