Reopening San Diego Schools During A Pandemic Would Be Foolish

The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended every aspect of life for Americans. Schools were not immune to this disruption and many face dire choices for reopening this fall. San Diego Unified School District’s choice to remain closed is the right choice as no school in the US should reopen until the pandemic is under control nationwide.

Evolution of the 2020 Pandemic in the United States

Without clear federal leadership, states have had different responses and reopening plans. The beginning of the pandemic in Spring 2020 was centered around an outbreak in New York City. Those who were spreading the virus early on were the elderly. As of Summer 2020, the dynamics of the ongoing pandemic have changed: younger Americans are now the ones catching and spreading the virus. Of particular note for educators and administrators, the virus can spread from a child to an older person, even if the child is asymptomatic or presymptomatic.

COVID-19 Can Be Transmitted Easily — Even Through the Air

The ease of which the virus can be transmitted should be on the front of educators and administrators minds as schools reopen for the fall. Even a routine event like riding the elevator can turn into a superspreading event: it took just 60 seconds in an elevator to infect 71 people. While it has been officially recognized by public health agencies that the virus can spread person to person through droplets and less so through surfaces, the evidence for airborne transmission has not been formally communicated. There is enough evidence to say that the virus can be transmitted in the air, however, how long it remains airborne is currently up for debate with estimates ranging from 3–16 hours. Poorly ventilated rooms and/or recirculated air inside buildings are confirmed events of virus transmission.

Reopening Schools: ‘Highest Risk’ of Transmission

Internal documents from the CDC state that reopening K-12 schools are of the ‘highest risk’, however, federal leadership scuttled the full release of this report and many state reopening plans have overlooked similar advice while rushing to reopen. There is pressure to reopen schools due to urgent economic reasons. It is estimated up to 30% of the workforce relies on preschools and elementary schools as a form of childcare, of which, the thought is to get school up and running so parents can return physically to the workplace without considering the harm involved with schools reopening during a pandemic.

Examples of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools

School closures help to reduce viral transmission. There are plenty of documented attempts at reopening that have resulted in outbreaks. In Israel, within two weeks of reopening, outbreaks closed schools with nearly 130 cases at a single school. In France, schools closed days after reopening with 70 new cases. In Arizona, three teachers shared a classroom where all three contracted the virus and one died. Football practices and other summer sports, day and sleepaway camping, and schools beginning to reopen in general have had documented COVID-19 outbreaks. While the risks of death and/or complications for children who contract this virus are much lower than that of adults — this an immoral argument: what is the cost of one student’s life just to reopen?

No In-Person Education Until There is a Vaccine

Data-focused reopening strategies have considered a few variables: % of ICU beds available, % positive testing, and availability of PPE supplies. Ignoring timely reporting, concerns of accuracy, testing shortages and inadequate contact tracing — states that use live data to inform decisions may act too late: it takes up to two weeks to manifest symptoms which would prompt a visit to a testing site, and the recorded deaths lag a month after confirmed diagnoses. Early in the pandemic, urgency of actions by states rested on the number of deaths more so than any other alarming indicator like the exponential increase that would strain resources. San Diego County and Southern California at-large are experiencing a rapid increase in ICU bed use, % positive testing, and deaths of which started with increases in diagnoses back in June. It is now July 2020, and we are seeing increases in deaths nearly a month later: right on schedule. These increases may very well reach levels where Southern California shuts down further by the time school starts, however, in any event, schools reopening will provide fertile ground for the virus to rapidly spread. Action by the state will be delayed by live data, so schools should make a decision now rather than waiting a month into the school year to confirm their own outbreak. Virtual education has its own problems and limitations to quality it can provide students, but the pandemic will only end when there is a viable vaccine. Reopening schools before a vaccine is released will put students and teachers in more danger.

*Gaps in achievement were unacceptably too high before to the pandemic and will get worse, but the push to reopen too early will harm students far more than continuing to refine online pedagogy. This post recognizes that there is currently no federal financial support to encourage continued work from home, and states are running low on funds fighting this on their own. But something has to give, educational institutions were not created to carry this burden.

References for Transmission and Outbreaks in Schools:

ABC7. Arkansas summer camp closes after campers, staffers test positive for virus. Retrieved from: https://katv.com/news/local/arkansas-summer-camp-closes-after-campers-staff-test-positive-for-virus

BBC. Coronavirus: Drop plan to reopen primaries to all pupils, ministers urged

BBC. Coronavirus: Plan dropped for all primary pupils back in school. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-52969679

CBS42. All Chilton County Schools’ facilities closed after COVID-19 outbreak

CNN. Should your kids go back to school? These studies suggest not. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/06/health/schools-reopening-coronavirus-children-wellness-intl/index.html

Michigan Live. Possible coronavirus exposures cancel football workouts around state. Retrieved from: https://www.mlive.com/highschoolsports/2020/07/possible-coronavirus-exposures-cancel-football-workouts-around-state.html

Montgomery Advertiser. Marbury Middle School closed due to coronavirus exposure, could delay Autauga Schools reopening. Retrieved from: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2020/07/13/marbury-middle-school-closed-due-coronavirus-exposure-could-delay-autauga-schools-reopening/5430835002/

NBC News. 70 cases of COVID-19 at French schools days after reopening. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/70-cases-covid-19-french-schools-days-after-re-opening-n1209591

NBC News. 70 cases of COVID-19 at French schools days after reopening. Retrieved: from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/70-cases-covid-19-french-schools-days-after-re-opening-n1209591

NPR. After Reopening Schools, Israel Orders Them To Shut If COVID-19 Cases Are Discovered

NPR. At Least 82 Coronavirus Cases Linked To Missouri Sleepaway Camp. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/10/889718877/at-least-82-coronavirus-cases-linked-to-missouri-sleepaway-camp

NPR. Coronavirus: Drop plan to reopen primaries to all pupils, ministers urged

NYT. This College Football Team Had No Coronavirus Cases at First. Then It Shut Down

Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/03/868507524/israel-orders-schools-to-close-when-covid-19-cases-are-discovered

Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52844043

Retrieved from: https://www.cbs42.com/news/health/coronavirus/all-chilton-county-schools-facilities-closed-after-covid-19-outbreak/

Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/03/868507524/israel-orders-schools-to-close-when-covid-19-cases-are-discovered

Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/sports/ncaafootball/college-football-coronavirus-cases.html

Science. Changes in contact patterns shape the dynamics of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Retrieved from: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6498/1481

Sun Herald. Coast high school shuts down football practices after coach tests positive for COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.sunherald.com/sports/high-school/article243718172.html

The Sacremento Bee. ‘We’re going to lose a lot of teachers.’ Coronavirus kills beloved Arizona educator Retrieved from: https://www.sacbee.com/news/coronavirus/article244174732.html

The Telegraph. 85 kids, counselors infected with coronavirus in YMCA camp outbreak, GA officials say. Retrieved from: https://www.macon.com/news/coronavirus/article244158667.html

Washington Post. Maryland Suspends Football Workouts After Nine Test Positive for Positive Coronavirus. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/07/11/maryland-suspends-football-workouts-after-nine-test-positive-coronavirus/

WSJ. Coronavirus Outbreaks in Summer Sports Shape School Reopen Plans: At least half the states have districts that have shut down summer athletic training due to positive virus testing. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-outbreaks-in-summer-sports-shape-school-reopen-plans-11594305719

References for Airborne Transmission:

CDC. COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Retrieved from: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/7/20-0764_article

Envorin Res. Transmission of COVID-19 virus by droplets and aerosols: A critical review on the unresolved dichotomy Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293495/

JAMA. Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852

mSystems. Protections against the Risk of Airborne SARS-CoV-2 Infection. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7300362/

NEJM. Droplets and Aerosols in the Transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Retrieved from: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmc2009324

New York Times. 239 Experts With One Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/04/health/239-experts-with-one-big-claim-the-coronavirus-is-airborne.html

New York Times. The Coronavirus Can Be Airborne Indoors, W.H.O. Says. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/09/health/virus-aerosols-who.html

PNAS. The airborne lifetime of small speech droplets and their potential importance in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Retrieved from: https://www.pnas.org/content/117/22/11875

The Lancet. Small droplet aerosols in poorly ventilated spaces and SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Retrieved from: https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanres/PIIS2213-2600(20)30245-9.pdf

Tulane University News. Tulane researchers find that coronavirus can survive in air for hours. Retrieved from: https://news.tulane.edu/pr/tulane-researchers-find-coronavirus-can-survive-air-hours

General References:

Axios. More young people are getting — and spreading — the coronavirus. Retrievd from: https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-young-people-spread-5a0cd9e0-1b25-4c42-9ef9-da9d9ebce367.html

Boston Globe. US education secretary Betsy DeVos downplays risk of opening schools in the fall

CDC. Large SARS-CoV-2 Outbreak Caused by Asymptomatic Traveler, China. Retrieved from: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/9/20-1798_article

Harvard Health. Coronavirus outbreak and kids: Advice on playdates, social distancing, and healthy behaviors to help prevent infection. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-outbreak-and-kids

KTLA5. CDC documents warned full reopening of schools, colleges would be ‘highest risk’ for spreading coronavirus: NYT. Retrieved from: https://ktla.com/news/nationworld/cdc-documents-warned-full-reopening-of-schools-colleges-would-be-highest-risk-for-spreading-coronavirus-nyt/

McKinsey & Company. Organizing schools to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/about-us/covid-response-center/leadership-mindsets/webinars/how-schools-can-reopen-during-the-covid-19-crisis

McKinsey & Company. Safely back to school after coronavirus closures. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/social-sector/our-insights/safely-back-to-school-after-coronavirus-closures#

Mercury News. Coronavirus: California reports record-high ICU usage and hospitalizations

Nature. Mounting evidence suggests coronavirus is airborne — but health advice has not caught up. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02058-1

New York Times. As Trump Demanded Schools Reopen, His Experts Warned of ‘Highest Risk’ Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/10/us/politics/trump-schools-reopening.html?searchResultPosition=1

NPR. Top Pediatrician Says States Shouldn’t Force Schools To Reopen If Virus Is Surging

NYC Dept of Public Health. COVID-19 Data. Retrieved from: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page

Politico. Not dangerous: DeVos defends schools reopening according to CDC guidelines Retrieved from: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/07/12/nation/us-education-secretary-betsy-devos-downplays-risk-opening-schools-fall/

Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/08/888853601/school-reopenings-should-keep-public-health-in-mind-pediatric-group-says?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=national

Retrieved from: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/12/betsy-devos-schools-reopen-357840

San Diego Dept of Public Health. Percentage of Positive COVID‐19 Cases Among Tests by Date Reported. Retrieved from: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/Epidemiology/COVID-19%20Percentage%20Positive.pdf

San Diego Tribune. There are 8,000 hospital beds in San Diego County. Is that enough if coronavirus hits hard? Retrieved from: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/health/story/2020-03-16/regions-hospitals-could-face-thousands-of

The state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate was 7.7 percent Retreived from: https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/07/11/coronavirus-california-reports-record-high-icu-usage-and-hospitalizations/

TIME. With No End in Sight to the Coronavirus, Some Teachers Are Retiring Rather Than Going Back to School. Retrieved from: http://time.com/5864158/coronavirus-teachers-school/