Back to School. Ish. (Newsletter Excerpt)

Newsletter Excerpt. Subscribe here.

Back to School. Ish. Apt. 11D Newsletter, September 4, 2020

For the first time in 27 weeks, both my kids are in school. Sort of.

We drove Jonah down to Rutgers on Sunday. His school is entirely virtual. As much as this makes everyone pretty sad, it was probably the right call. His school has 30,000 undergraduates, an overcrowded bus system, a ton of commuters, a diverse population with differing norms regarding masks and personal safety. I can’t imagine how Rutgers could safely open prior to a vaccine. Other colleges with a smaller, non-commuting student body seems to be doing fine, but big state colleges can’t do that. 

Although his university’s dorms are closed, Jonah’s privately operated dorm is open. And he happily went back there. He was randomly grouped with four other guys, but so far, only one has shown up. So, he is a spanking new dorm suite by himself. Seems lonely to me, but he’s 21 and really needed some space from his old parents and the opportunity to see buddies. We were a little worried that he was getting too shy and too dependent on us. Developmentally, he needed independence. So off he went.

And after a lot of local drama, Ian’s school opened yesterday using a hybrid model – half in-person, half virtual. Compared to other local school districts, his school did a good job. The virtual part will happen via a video camera, not YouTube videos and worksheets. He’ll have nearly a full day of learning. This isn’t happening in other towns, including the town where I live. (Because my son has special needs, he is bussed to a neighboring public school with fewer kids.)


With the growing erosion of democratic norms, participating in politics through normal channels is more important than ever. Yes, we must demand better behavior from our leaders, but we also must work in our own backyard to keep democracy strong. That’s why I’m going to volunteer to work the polls on Election Day. I’ve also decided to play a stronger role in local government.

On Monday, after 2-½ hours of school board members squabbling with each other, they opened the floor to public comments. Via phone, I used my allotted four minutes to talk about the initial studies that show massive detrimental impact on kids from this pandemic, both academically and emotionally, and demanded that they come up with plans to address these deficits. 

The other day, I asked Ian what were the five things that he missed most about life prior to the pandemic. I said that I missed the smell of movie theater popcorn, live music, museums, hugs with my mom, and indoor get-togethers. Ian quickly responded with his list of things that he missed: “everything, everything, everything, everything, everything.” 

Our kids need everything, but right now their worlds are deserted college campuses, masks and disinfectant, isolation, boredom, and endless hours of video games. Sure, we’re doing our best to help them out, but even the most joyful homeschooling parent cannot give them everything.

When this is all over — and it will be over at some point, just not this year — adults have to make this up to them with bold, creative programs. They’ll need reparations. I hope we don’t sweep this mess under the rug. 

16 thoughts on “Back to School. Ish. (Newsletter Excerpt)

  1. Our private school in TX has been operating for three weeks now with (as far as I know) only one positive kid. You can choose to be in person or remote and a bunch of my kids’ classmates are still remote. (School requires one week’s notice before a kid can return.)

    Our fancier suburban public school district has a dashboard now, so that you can see cases at a glance across the different campuses in the district.

    Our county positivity got down around 8-10% (from a high in the low 20s) and then the college kids arrived and class started, and local positivity is back up around 14% now. It’s a bit hard to tell what percentage of the college kids have had COVID (because the college dashboard combines students and college employees), but I would estimate that 5% of the college kids have tested positive over the last month. College is cracking down right now and the college numbers seem to be leveling off. They are doing wastewater monitoring, which I’m happy about. I believe 5% of the college student body is being called up for random tests every week. I have heard (although I don’t know if this is correct) that no college cases have been traced back to classroom interaction.

    Both college and the fancy suburban school district seem to be doing a lot of contact tracing.


  2. Glad Ian gets to go back at least part time in person. Is his school district doing hybrid for all their students?

    Our HS junior started remote today with a soft start — 2 online synchronous sessions in the morning where students and teachers introduced themselves and started working on tech bugs. Last spring we did not set him up for remote, with space and expectations. This year he is set up. I’m hopeful that he will be taught his AP heavy courseload with the limited contact hours (2 periods per week/class). It will be a college model with significant independent work (and 2 v the 3 contact hours I’m used to).

    His course schedule means his classmates are the “academic” kids which might make something’s go more smoothly.


  3. We’ve had some weird/interesting patterns at Hometown U.

    Hometown U. did pre-term testing of everybody, with reasonable results. Then, during the first week of class, nearly 400 people in the campus community (students, employees, contractors) tested positive with COVID.

    Sounds like a total disaster, right?

    Weirdly, the second week of class, new cases dropped significantly and (if the campus dashboard is to be trusted) we now have fewer active cases on campus than 10 days ago. They’re doing random surveillance testing and roughly 1% of the people tested are positive. Hometown U. reports 5% positivity overall for the past 7 days. County-wide, about 13% of COVID tests are positive (7-day rolling averages).

    Knock on wood, classes at Hometown U. are still in person. My younger kids’ school just finished up their third week in person. As far as I know, their school has had just the one COVID case that resulted in the kid’s classmates all going online for the two-week quarantine period.

    Interestingly, about half of the total COVID tests performed in the entire county this year have been done at the behest of Hometown U over the course of the past 5-6 weeks. Based on the number of people that my husband reports having disappeared from class or their jobs at the gym, Hometown U. is aggressively contact-tracing. They are also monitoring dorm wastewater.

    My husband talked to a recovered campus COVID kid today. The recovered kid reported that his case was like a really weak cold. I wonder if that kid would have gotten a test at all, if he weren’t on campus. On the other hand, there was just a story in the news about a youngish (?) guy who just got out of the hospital after two months of treatment.


  4. All this isn’t going to end soon. It’s either the U.S. or Belgium that is going to be the highest in deaths per capita among the wealthy countries, and Belgium decided to let the elderly die without treatment. It’s a toss-up as to whether Trump is as deadly as actual euthanasia.


    1. The longer this circulates at such high prevalence, the more nursing homes this gets into. People are demanding visits with their parents (and I understand that because you can’t beat Alzheimer’s but I’d rather not have my mom die with no visits for months) and because the staff have lives they can’t keep putting on hold. Large portions of America are scaling back testing and not wearing masks. And between November and January we will either have Trump with no incentive to avoid deaths because of spite or Trump vindicated in letting people die of Covid,

      This is going to be a horrible winter regardless of anything.


      1. MH said, “And between November and January we will either have Trump with no incentive to avoid deaths because of spite or Trump vindicated in letting people die of Covid,”

        What thing is Trump (and the entire federal government) doing now that is life-saving that he (and the entire federal government) is going to stop doing between November and January?


      2. That plus they could go back to blocking PPE from places where Trump doesn’t care if people die. Plus, actively discouraging masks would hurt.


    2. MH said, “All this isn’t going to end soon. It’s either the U.S. or Belgium that is going to be the highest in deaths per capita among the wealthy countries, and Belgium decided to let the elderly die without treatment. It’s a toss-up as to whether Trump is as deadly as actual euthanasia.”

      Granted, it’s not over yet, but Spain, the UK and Italy are still ahead of the US.

      Also, I have to point out that US states have dramatically different COVID deaths per capita, ranging from 180 per 100,000 in NJ to 6 per 100,000 in Hawaii and Alaska. The differences between different states (30X) greatly exceed the national differences between the US (577 per million) and France (457 per million), for example, or even the national differences between the US and Germany (5X).

      And if you’re going to mention undercounts–literally everybody is going to turn out to have undercounts, so it doesn’t make sense to bump the US numbers up without doing the same for European countries.


  5. I regularly look at our county/state totals and spouse made me realize something recently. The latest week of data is always an under report. So, the numbers always look like they are going down, that things are getting a little bit better (even if they are only stable, or even if they are increasing, but not a lot). This has the effect of looking at the most recent data and being relieved, even if we shouldn’t be. But, it also has the effect of thinking well maybe things will be better in a a month, or two months (by projecting that under-reported dip into the future). I’m guilty of the second, prone to thinking that if I just wait a month, or two months, we’ll get back to normal. But, we might really just have to learn to respond to the 500/cases a day statewide.


    1. I just saw that the University of Iowa has 174 new cases since Friday. That’s more the Allegheny County (probably, the weekend numbers tend to be too low in many areas).


      1. MH said, “I just saw that the University of Iowa has 174 new cases since Friday. That’s more the Allegheny County (probably, the weekend numbers tend to be too low in many areas).”

        Bear in mind that the colleges are testing far more heavily than almost anybody else and are going to be turning up a much larger percentage of cases.


    2. bj said, “I regularly look at our county/state totals and spouse made me realize something recently. The latest week of data is always an under report.”

      Conversely, a lot of state death data is also late (weeks and weeks late in many cases), so there aren’t necessarily as many deaths happening right now as reports would suggest.


      1. I think whether current deaths might be over-reported depends on how deaths are tallied by time — the methodology depends on state, but, in general, I think deaths are added to the graph by the date of the death, not the date of the reporting. So, if a death is reported 3 weeks late, it is added to the date 3 weeks ago, not now. If that methodology is correct in general (and not just WA state), deaths would not be over-reported in the latest weeks, even if they are not yet reported. In fact, like the case count data, they would be under-reported.


  6. Apologies for being a thread hog, but I have to mention a couple of things about Biden/Harris.

    1. Harris did a very bad thing by raising doubts about the current vaccine projects.

    “Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash in a clip released Saturday whether she would get a vaccine that was approved and distributed before the election, Harris replied, “Well, I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us.”

    “”I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” she continued in the clip from an exclusive interview airing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” at 9 a.m. ET. “I will not take his word for it.””

    “When asked by Bash whether she thought that public health experts and scientists would get the last word on the efficacy of a vaccine, Harris predicted that they will not.
    “If past is prologue that they will not, they’ll be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined,” Harris said. “Because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days and he’s grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not.””

    There’s the potential for Kamala Harris’s words leading to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of Americans if there are problems with regard to persuading the public to get vaccinated.

    2. Biden does not have a magic lamp that he’s going to rub on inauguration day. In fact, I’ve heard nothing especially insightful from him on COVID over the last 6 months. A couple days ago, he tweeted:

    “As president, I will:
    – Call for nationwide mask mandates
    – Implement widespread testing
    – Accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines
    I’m ready to work on day one to contain the spread of this virus and get our country back on track.”

    –“Accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines” is happening right now–to the point that his running mate was raising concerns that the vaccine is being developed too fast.
    –We have “widespread testing.” What we don’t have is widespread FAST testing. Fortunately, the Trump administration has ordered a heck-load of Abbott tests.
    –So, a lot of “me, too!” from Biden.
    –Lastly, what’s stopping him from from calling “for nationwide mask mandates” right now, if that just means urging all of the states to do so? Beyond that, “nationwide mask mandate” is really empty, given the lack of any conceivable federal enforcement mechanism. Also, what are the states supposed to do to enforce mask mandates? Throw people into jail?


Comments are closed.