SL 815

Back when the kids were younger (and I was younger), we would spend a week baking cookies for all the relatives. I think we’ll do it again, because cookies make people happy, and these are tough times. The Times has some nice recipes and tips for shipping. (Need cookie sheets, tins, other baking supplies?)

Drama of the Morning: Ian has been using my old computer; it’s 9 years old, but was still working fine, until now. He has to upgrade in order to do his computer electives via remote education. (His school shutdown a week ago, and he probably won’t go back for months.) We’re not thrilled about this unexpected expense, but we can do it. How are other families managing these expenses now? (Need a new Mac?)

The progressive coalition might not make it to January.

The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2020.

Picture: Last weekend, we hopped through a hole in a fence and walked around the local water reservoir. (Need hiking boots?)

58 thoughts on “SL 815

  1. I just made these chocolate chip meringues with some extra egg whites left over from key lime pie:

    Beat 2 egg whites, 1 t vanilla, 1/4 t cream of tartar, 1/4 t salt until soft peaks, beat in 3/4 cup of sugar gradually until very stiff and glossy, fold in chips. Drop teaspoons onto baking sheet linked with brown paper (cut up grocery bags work). Cook at 300 for 25 mins.


    1. My mom used to make these and called them “Aunt Mae’s Kisses” because she got the recipe from her great-aunt Mae. My kids still love them.


  2. I’m glad Ian is getting to take classes that mean that he has to upgrade to a <9 year old Mac!

    We replaced our kids laptops mid summer, for classes (though HS kiddo was issued a laptop by his school). We got this LG monitor to put on a desk for the laptop to connect to, added an magic mouse & keyboard to create a desktop system. The laptop charges off the monitor and there are other ports on the monitor to add camera, microphone, etc.


    1. Yep, funding computer equipment is a significant barrier to many families.
      My son went through 3 months of homeschooling with a laptop which could barely cope with Google Classroom (it had been bought pretty much for him to use to support his writing/spelling) – and was fine for use in class. It wouldn’t Zoom at all (luckily his iPad – though elderly – was able to cope). And was (according to him) totally inadequate for gaming.

      He was frustrated, but it didn’t materially affect his ability to participate or learn – so I could live with it 😉

      However, that meant that he was highly motivated to get a new one. He contributed birthday money, payment for additional chores (lawn mowing, etc.) and cash bonuses for ‘excellences’ at school (academic and behavior). I agreed to contribute the cost of a mid-range laptop (all he needed for schooling), and he had to top this up to the low-end gaming computer he wanted – it worked out about half each. And then he waited impatiently for a sale to drop the price a couple of hundred dollars to just be within reach.

      There are kids we know who share one elderly laptop or ipad between 3 kids. Or where the only internet connection is Mum’s phone.
      Mr 13’s school has just advertised the BYOD evening for Year 9 (13-14 year olds). They’ll need to have a personal laptop/chromebook (Windows only, no Apple devices – because of program compatibility issues) – so had one of the big local IT retailers there, giving advice and setting up payment programs, for parents who need this.

      Just another cost barrier to getting a good education.


    2. Yes, he has a whole bunch of arts tech classes, which he loves. He’s also getting an A in Trig right now. And he’s on the high honor roll list. So all that is good. His school is all-remote right now, but should be back in-person on Monday. We’ll see.


    1. My in-family tech department just bought the Mac mini. He raves about it–it has the Apple chip, which is (apparently) a breakthrough. Technical details here:

      I would recommend buying a computer with the new chip. On top of the technical advances, very soon the ongoing software will be written for the new chip, so it has a longer period of relevance than the older chip. For the older computer users, like the shift away from PowerPCs.


      1. He might, you know, with the music editing that he does, and if he does any video editing. Check, though, for expert advice. For example, the super duper super expensive mac was not (when I last checked a half a year ago) useful for photographers who mainly use Photoshop (because Photoshop was not optimized for the innards of the machine).


  3. Shortbread is nice!

    My husband has been reading Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books to our youngest. There are plans in the works to design and 3D-print a Moomintroll cookie cutter.


    1. Love the Moomins! My favourite was “Who will comfort Toffle?”

      Funny story. We have a famous musical family here in NZ – The Finn Family (brothers Tim & Neil Finn founded Split Enz & Crowded House and later in Fleetwood Mac – and now their kids are in bands too).
      But every time a reporter talks about the “Finn family” – *I* think: Finn Family Moomintroll!


      1. Ann said, “But every time a reporter talks about the “Finn family” – *I* think: Finn Family Moomintroll!”

        That was the first real book I ever read as a kid.

        I never encountered any of the other books until I was a grown woman with kids. The art is phenomenal.

        I’m getting the 2nd grader a couple of (rather expensive) Japanese Moomin mugs for Christmas. I think the enamel one I got will probably be a good pick for a kid.


  4. Unexpected expenses are never pleasant, but overall we have spent so much less during COVID, what with almost no restaurant visits, no travel, no theater or movies, no sporting events, no parties, and much reduced clothing budgets (since we don’t go anywhere and it’s hard to buy clothes online), that we feel richer than usual.


    1. Us too, but I (not the others) are engaging in random online spending.

      A friend who works for a children’s clothing retailer known for comfort said that they are doing really well because people are willing to buy kids clothes online and they have nothing to do at home but shop (everyone wearing soft pants all the time, which is what they sell, doesn’t hurt, either) and, in general their demographic is probably doing OK economically during the pandemic.


    2. And no vacations.

      It’s hard to really assess our expenses, because there has been new stuff, while less of the old stuff. Like I’m paying a ton on tutoring and after-school stuff to supplement the lack of education now.


    3. My quick and dirty estimate (based on my records) is that we have spent about 80% of what we spent last year in the same time period (mid-march to early December). More on electronics and some random shopping, but much less on travel (and last year was a high travel year for us).


  5. Here’s another COVID/Christmas note:

    Our family normally prints a captioned photobook of our family’s doings over the past year. It’s a sort of combined Christmas card/gift for our relatives who live far away. We usually start with about 1,000 photos and winnow it down to 100 photos, with highlights of the year. It’s usually hard to squeeze it down.

    Anyway, we haven’t started work on it yet, but I suddenly realized–we haven’t done anything this year from mid-March on, and we haven’t taken any pictures since then! I don’t know if we can manage to eke out a full book from the raw material we have available this year.


    1. I started a phone “1 second a day” project (with the 1SE app) in January, when we were traveling (before the pandemic) and a friend introduced me to the app. I recommend it highly. I’ve been managing to keep up with it, even though, as you say, we are not doing anything. It can be a bit repetitive, but, seeing what we repeated is still an interesting document. The key (and I don’t always follow it) is to document the ordinary (say, dinner) or random conversation. It’s 1 second, so usually I get agreement.


  6. Matt Yglesias has a very nice newsletter on the subject of all the COVID stuff that worked in East Asia and Australia/New Zealand that the US (and I’d add–much of Europe) have been unwilling to do.

    Yglesias points out that early on, there was an elite/expert backlash against travel restrictions, based on a combination of garbled memories of past epidemics that weren’t exactly analogous situations and (I’d add) a lot of wishful thinking. Trump wanted a travel ban on China, and that meant that travel bans had to be opposed. Meanwhile Trump’s ban had so many exceptions (US citizens, US green card holders, family of citizens and green card holders) that it was more of an immigration ban than a public health ban. Meanwhile, we had no travel restrictions with Europe, which was starting to have a huge COVID problem.

    Yglesias argues that countries COVID success stories seem to all have one thing in common–effective bans on entry by outsiders, followed by secure quarantine on entry. Yglesias describes the New Zealand system:

    “If you happen to fit in one of the categories of people who are allowed to go to New Zealand (citizens, permanent residency holders, diplomats, certain Australian citizens, etc.) then you need to book yourself a 14-day stay in a managed isolation facility. Before you board a flight you’ll need to prove that you have such a booking. And when you land you have to go there and quarantine for two weeks.”

    “A lot of people have made the point that many of the success stories are islands or argued that Korea is a quasi-island. But it’s important to be clear here. Covid didn’t sneak into the United States across the land border with Mexico. It arrived on planes from Europe. And it didn’t sneak in on planes either; we weren’t trying to stop the planes from coming. Even when Trump did restrict travel from Europe, he exempted American citizens and encouraged an enormous homeward bound rush of people. We didn’t fail to seal the border because we couldn’t pull it off logistically — we just didn’t try.”


    1. Internal travel controls in the US were proposed early on, but quickly shelved after pushback. As Yglesias notes, early on, Trump floated the idea of a cordon sanitaire around New York/NJ/CT–but it went no further. Gov. Cuomo and the ACLU denounced Rhode Island’s attempts to keep out visitors from hot spots. I’d add–some months later, Cuomo was attempting to do the same thing with hot spot states, once NY’s spring surge had abated. Almost none of this was more than talk, and ultimately refugees from the NE seeded almost the entire US with a wave that has since returned to the NE.

      Except maybe for Hawaii and similar, there aren’t a lot of states with effective travel/quarantine regimes. A lot of stuff exists on paper that doesn’t exist in reality. See, also, US states’ attempts at contact tracing. (Schools and colleges have often done quite a bit better.)

      Yglesias writes, “Many states maintain these notional lists of hotspots people aren’t supposed to travel from, but nothing is enforced. And because the United States doesn’t have any centralized quarantine facilities at all, you certainly can’t make travelers go to one.”

      Yglesias imagines an alternate reality in which the US had implemented a combination of travel restrictions and quarantine and isolated NY/NJ/CT:

      “My guess is [Trump would] have taken a ton of heat for it initially, but then it would’ve worked and he’d have ended up looking vindicated like Australian PM Scott Morrison — another Anglophone right-winger from broadly the same political tradition as Trump.”

      Eh, I’m less optimistic. I’m imagining an early kick-off of this year’s 5-month BLM protest season, but directed at Trump COVID restrictions, just as there have been various non-BLM protests in Europe. As you can see even from Yglesias’s piece, there’s a consistent pattern of resistance even to Trump’s good COVID ideas. (See also opening schools this fall, which became unpalatable as an idea the instant Trump embraced it.) Reflexive partisanship would have made it unthinkable for Democrats to cooperate (especially during an election year), and many Republicans would have had constitutional qualms. Also, how would Trump have sealed off NY/NJ/CT without cooperation of local law enforcement? Maybe you could have shut down air travel in and out of the area, though, but anything beyond that would be unenforceable. (See also, Joe Biden’s doomed “national mask mandate” plans.)

      There’s a consistent pattern this year of anti-COVID measures instantly getting a partisan label and becoming poisonous to the other side.

      Yglesias concludes with, “But I do think one upshot of the Covid-19 experience is that the next time a new respiratory disease emerges, we ought to be much more bullish on travel restrictions.”

      A couple thoughts on that:

      –It’s going to be ugly and uncomfortable, but there has to be some kind of postmortem on US COVID management. As Yglesias notes, there’s likely to be another bug, so we need to do the work of figuring out what went wrong and preparing for the next one or wind up muddling through it again with similar results. But there’s going to be a huge temptation to pull out the lies and whitewash instead.
      –Yglesias is correct that early on, COVID wasn’t sneaking across the Mexican border. But at some point, the US-Mexico border does become an issue. Latin America has been hit hard, the US has 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, there are a lot of unauthorized border crossings, and there are a number of US border counties with sky-high infection rates.


      1. Given that the United States at present has added high levels of partisanship to an existing fractiousness and mistrust of government, it seems very unlikely that any national plan which effectively restricted individual rights could every be implemented here. It’s not like the Europeans have generally done much better anyway.


      2. Yes, we will need to do a post-mortem and compare it to both the advice that pre-existed this particular pandemic and make plans for future pandemics. This was a tough virus, with asymptomatic, airborne transmission and ransmission before symptoms appear. Techniques that worked with other pandemics (temperature screening, for example) appear to have been insufficient.

        In March, when I posted my first comment here about the coronavirus, I stated my fear of Trump’s leadership because he does not listen to expertise and because he lies, for petty personal reasons (example: the undermining of the Birmingham National Weather Service about the hurricane Dorian). Although I am certainly partisan, this evaluation can be backed up with significant evidence. I feared for the reliability of the evidence from the CDC/FDA and the ability of those leaders to be independent in the face of Trump’s willingness to undermine independent government that disagree with him. Independence of science is going to have part of the post-mortem.


      3. bj said, “In March, when I posted my first comment here about the coronavirus, I stated my fear of Trump’s leadership because he does not listen to expertise and because he lies, for petty personal reasons.”

        On the other hand, WHO (supposedly the world authority on infectious diseases) was a disaster early on. Maybe they’ve shaped up, but early in the pandemic, they made things actively worse. Some examples:

        –being too willing to believe China’s official reassurances
        –excludes Taiwan (which has a lot to bring to the table in terms of dealing with COVID)
        –opposing travel bans
        –being slow to recommend masks for the public
        –downplaying the importance of asymptomatic spread (in June!).

        See also the CDC creating a US testing bottleneck this spring by having a faulty test but also forbidding non-CDC tests.

        Let’s face it–WHO and US health experts weren’t really that good, especially this spring.

        I’d be happy if a group of COVID rock star countries formed some sort of consortium (within WHO or outside WHO) to give advice and be a watchdog for the next pandemic, but part of the postmortem needs to be talking about how expertise failed, especially early in the pandemic.


    2. Hmm. OK the NZ system was pretty rigorous. But I don’t think that it was really scalable to a country like the US.
      During first lockdown in NZ. The borders were closed. To everyone. Including NZ citizens. No passenger airlines were flying.
      NZ could only really get away with this because *most* of our Kiwis overseas were short-term travellers (who had a window of about 2 weeks to drop everything and get back), and people living abroad for a longer term (who just sheltered in place).
      There were still Kiwis were weren’t able to get back, and who had some pretty horrific stories of being trapped overseas with no money, and hotels closing down, and zero help from the NZ government.

      I don’t think that this would have been workable in the US (don’t US citizens have a legal right to return?). And it would almost certainly have been politically unacceptable.

      Once we were out of lockdown, we implemented the quarantine system. That’s 14 days in a hotel room, with no contact with anyone outside your room. It costs about $6000 per person – by the time you add in the security and additional cleaning, and health workers testing, as well as the basic hotel and food cost. This is almost entirely picked up by the NZ government (there are a few exceptions) – but it’s pretty controversial with taxpayers picking up the bill.
      It’s also really limited in numbers. There are only so many quarantine places, and when they’re full you can’t come. The government provides emergency exemptions (which pretty much sounds as though you get a place if you’re important enough – or have a good enough story in the media).
      But quarantine places are now booked up to the end of January next year – so still very, very difficult for people to get home.
      We still have stories of families split apart, where one parent is in NZ, and the other is still overseas – even 6 months after flights resumed and the quarantine system was established. (some of these are about the 2nd class way that NZ limited visa holders have been treated – people who are entitled to residency because they’re married to a Kiwi, or people who have an existing exemption to work in NZ but were trapped overseas – very, very few of these have been allowed back in)

      [It’s also really stupidly set up. Instead of having a quarantine place bundled with your airfaire (just as you would for a hotel room, or a cruise package) – you have to book it separately, *then* go and try to find an airticket to match the dates – if there’s only a First Class seat, it may cost you a *lot* of money! The airlines are *set up* to manage bundled bookings – I have zero idea why the NZ govt couldn’t take advantage of this]

      Given the numbers of Americans – I literally don’t think that the US would have had the space and capacity to implement a NZ-style quarantine system.

      Also, Kiwis were pretty disgusted with the US Ambassador, who negotiated *not* staying in quarantine – because ‘he couldn’t do his job in quarantine’ (we were *not* impressed — just saying….)


  7. Whether, in the end, different countries in Europe will have done better than us is still to be determined. Right now, we’d say Germany has done better and others also skipped the 2nd wave we experienced. But, the biggest factor might turn out to be what the cases/deaths are before we are able to deploy vaccines, i.e. in the next 3-6 months. We haven’t turned the numbers around as a country, while Germany has flattened its cases and France, Spain, Ialy, and the UK have turned them around (R0<1). Will we flatten at 200K? continue to go up? Will we reach hospital capacity? All yet to be determined.


    1. I do not believe that any useful post mortem can or will be conducted in the US, because those on the left will insist that Trump-bashing is the sum and substance of all analysis (which requires desperately massaging European data to make European countries look better than the US), and those on the right will obviously resist. Right not, Italian deaths are 959 per million, the UK is 892, and the US is 840, but only a very few honest liberals (like Kevin Drum) would dream of publishing those figures.

      There might be a useful analysis if someone attempted to figure out why Germany’s numbers are so much better than France’s, when the countries are right next to each other, have genetically and demographically similar populations, similar climates, similar levels of economic development, etc., but that would be a lot of work to no political purpose.


      1. Right not, Italian deaths are 959 per million, the UK is 892, and the US is 840, but only a very few honest liberals (like Kevin Drum) would dream of publishing those figures.

        Um, the figures have been published. It’s not like those are a secret. But hey, nice cherry picking of your countries. Great! The US isn’t the absolute worst in the industrialized world. Is that the standard we should be aiming for and does not being at the very bottom exonerate your Trumpy hero?

        If we are going to compare ourselves to others I would rather look at why we are so much worse than countries like Canada (~340 deaths per million), Germany (~225 deaths per million) or Australia (~35 (!) deaths per million. And, suffering much less school closure and economic dislocation to boot. Australia and Canada are probably the two most similar countries, culturally, to us, and Canada is geographically proximate as well. Germany has a similar economy and shares a very federalized government (perhaps even more so than us). If they can be so much more successful than us it is perfectly valid to ask what they are doing right and we are doing wrong. I have my own theories.

        I do not believe that any useful post mortem can or will be conducted in the US

        I share your belief that this will not happen but I think you are in denial about the reason why. The reason this cannot happen is because the right is so completely divorced from reality. Not only regarding public health, but also a number of other important issues, such as climate, the validity of the recent election, and our economy’s position on the Laffer curve. It is hard to have a productive conversation about anything with deranged flat-Earthers.


    2. I can guarantee that the France/Germany comparison will be done. And NOT because scientists are honorably committed to understanding the truth (though I do think that is sometimes, but not always true). It’ll be done because there will be a paper to be published in the comparison and benefits to the scientists who do the study, We might find, for example, that strains of the virus actually explain the difference (and not different policy decisions). That result would be fascinating and wouldn’t have been possible, maybe even 10 years ago. It is also still possible that at the “end” of the pandemic Germany will *not* be better off than France (though the hopes for an imminent vaccine make that less likely.

      And, I don’t even now what you mean when you say that no “liberal” would publish the current numbers, since they are widely available:

      The US is now closer to 90 which would put it 3rd on that list of European countries (and, yes, negligibly different from the top 4). The US also has drastically different outcomes for different states, ranging from New Jersey at 194 to Vermont at 12. The numbers are still changing (who would have thought that SD & ND would be 9 and 8 in April, when they were nearly unaffected?), though, and eventually there will be rich data sets to analyze. We need to now that everything we think now is an interim result, one we need to attend to, but that could end up being wrong with the fullness of the data. For example, right now, it looks like some of the European countries have stopped their increase of cases and decreased their R0 to less than zero. But, this could always change. And, the US could succeed. I have hopes that our rates in WA might be improving (though our 2 week data is still skewed down by less testing & reporting over the Thanksgiving holiday).


  8. I hope we flatten, because at 2000 dead/day, we would have another 180,000-360,000 dead in the 3-6 months I hope for vaccination.


  9. and it really is a bias to argue that liberals refuse to grapple with the real data. for example, the liberal new york times today:

    “Europe’s Deadly by Second Wave: How Did It Happen Again?”


    1. bj said, “and it really is a bias to argue that liberals refuse to grapple with the real data.”

      It did take a long time for major US media to switch tracks from “Europe is doing great! Europe has this all figured out! Why aren’t we like Europe?” early this fall to “Europe is having a huge second wave.”

      There’s also the persistent problem of US articles that fail to contextualize with comparative state and national rates and the national media’s urge to treat red state governors as whipping boys and to single out red states as being specially culpable and wicked:

      That article is entitled “Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing
      The story of the coronavirus in the state is one of government inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility.”

      After a recitation of various horrors, the article says: “What makes all of this suffering and death exponentially more painful is the simple fact that much of it was preventable. A recent New York Times analysis clearly showed that states with the tightest COVID-19 restrictions have managed to keep cases per capita lower than states with few restrictions.”

      “The crisis in Iowa’s hospitals could be improved in a matter of weeks if Iowans started wearing a mask whenever they leave the house and stopped spending time indoors with people outside their households.”

      Some things missing from this article (which came out Dec. 3):

      –Iowa new cases seem to have peaked in the first half of November–nearly 3 weeks before this article came out.
      –Iowa’s deaths per 100,000 rate are almost identical to the US national rate. So, Iowa isn’t a “worst case” scenario but literally an average scenario in the US.
      –Iowa’s death rates (so far) are better than Illinois and Michigan and very similar to Delaware. Nobody has given those states this kind of treatment (“What Happens When Government Does Nothing”).

      Some issues I have been noting: a) the comparative state and national rates need to be used in more articles and b) unfortunately, by the time the media says there’s a problem, it’s either too late to do anything, or the situation is already on the mend.


  10. I can’t say that I’m disappointed, but wow, Biden’s COVID plans are pretty thin gruel.

    “More money to reopen schools: “We can make it safe for teachers if we invest in what needs to be done. No. 1, sanitizing the schools; No. 2, making sure that they have ventilation; No. 3, making sure there are smaller pods of children, meaning you need more teachers. You’ve got to pay for this stuff.’”

    My take: yay for ventilation, but “sanitizing the schools” is COVID theater if we’re talking about surface cleaning. Also, where are these “more teachers” supposed to magically come from? Are we supposed to manufacture them like orcs? Also, smaller pods means that kids don’t get a 5-day week, since we also can’t magic up twice as many classrooms.

    “I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask, just 100 days to mask, not forever, 100 days.”

    I have a lot of thoughts on this.

    –A German study found that mandating face masks cut transmission by 45% in 20 days. (Quick note–this may not include outdoor settings.)
    –45% is great–but it’s literally only half-way there.
    –There’s a bit of a mask cargo cult going on in the US–with a lot of people (like Joe Biden) believing that all we need is more masking.
    –The US actually has pretty high masking rates compared to many European countries–some numbers from October:

    –Back in August 2020, Pew found that 85% of Americans said that they wear masks in stores all or most of the time.

    –In my town, I believe it’s been high-90s masked in the grocery store since late June during the summer surge–we are still going through a fall surge.
    –There really isn’t a lot of low-hanging fruit left with regard to masks and it really frustrates me when people in high office (like Biden) act as though there’s a huge pool of people left who just need to be told to get with the program. Anybody adult who is left not wearing masks indoors is either die-hard or has some good reason not to mask (trouble breathing or has already had COVID).
    –That said, there may be a huge cascade of non-compliance in the spring once a lot of people have been vaccinated.
    –The odds are really high that some parts of the country and some populations are going to need to mask indoors beyond the 100 days, so I suspect that that’s going to need to be walked back.


  11. Here’s an (expensive) idea:

    Do an IEP for every public school child by the end of the 2020-2021 school year (summer at the latest). It would be a heck of an ordeal, but I don’t see how you deal with pandemic deficits other than by doing the testing, noting specific deficits, and then making a plan for dealing with them. Then repeat in spring 2022.

    Obviously, everybody is not going to wind up at grade level even under ideal circumstances, but I would suggest the following finish line: keep going with remediation until the average results reach the school’s pre-pandemic achievement levels.

    I think it’s going to be hard dealing with kids late in their high school career, because a lot of them are going to want to get out of the K-12 system as fast as they can, even if they’re not ready to do so, and there’s going to be an unprecedented amount of failure when they hit college, but it should be easier to deal with elementary kids. I suspect that summer programs are going to work better than after-school, because kids are TIRED after school and not in the mood for more school.

    I’m up for funding summer 2021 and summer 2022 mass summer school for K-6 (with enough fun stuff to make it palatable to the kids), with some individual intervention beyond that.

    My suspicion is that mass summer school won’t be the right approach for grades 7-12 and would be a big waste of money

    Feel free to steal any ideas from here that you like.


    1. A big push to provide (possibly volunteer) reading tutors in after-school programs might be helpful, but again, kids are often burned-out after school.

      One-on-one reading help is very important for struggling young readers. My youngest has made a lot of progress over the last year, and here’s what’s been helpful for her:

      –short sessions (no more than 15-20 minutes)
      –doing it almost every day (twice a day during school breaks when I can get away with it)
      –really careful choice of materials (reading level and interest).

      Another issue I don’t think we’ve discussed is that a lot of learning disabilities and special needs have not been IDed because of the pandemic, so there’s a huge backlog of kids that need to be IDed tested more thoroughly. We did psychoeducational testing for our youngest in May, which in retrospect was a bit of a miracle. (In her case, we discovered that she did not have academic deficits, but she did have a lot of attention issues.) I personally think that every kid who is struggling in school ought to have psychoeducational testing done, and not just after the pandemic.


  12. Thread here arguing that children do spread COVID in schools.

    IANAS, so I will leave bj and others to see if there are weaknesses in the paper/stats presented.

    Another friend has tested positive. Transmission via her niece (not a child) whom she saw on 11/30. Her niece tested positive a couple of days later. Friend tested positive yesterday. I may never leave my house again.


    1. I have kids in in-person school in Toronto (although we’ve pulled my elementary kid for now) and I would have to say that our local evidence is mounting that it does spread in schools. Asymptomatic testing in a few Ontario schools ended in the closure of 3/4 of them.

      This started when they tested in a high positivity community and turned up *26* asymptomatic cases in one round of testing of about 500 staff and students.

      It does seem to link to community positivity rates. Our schools have classes of up to 30 kids, although in practical terms it tends to be closer to 25 kids. Masks are required, social distancing is at least attempted, classes are pods so they eat together (no masks obvs), don’t rotate through other classrooms, etc.

      I would say my completely lay but highly-motivated-to-be-listening opinion is that schools where the kids and teachers are doing pretty well at the masking and hand washing and everything are not super-spreader environments, so you don’t see say a class of 25 coming down with 15 cases (that we know of, see asymptomatic cases). But they are not non-spreading environments, so where students bring a case in you seem to get a few other cases (all the schools I work with where I’m aware of an index case had several cases the next week – but again, not dozens.)

      I think part of the “safe schools” confusion is that when people say schools aren’t big spreading sites, they are leaning more towards the former definition — you don’t get huge outbreaks. But they aren’t NO-spreader sites, and if your child is the one sitting next to the kid with the case and brings it home to you or grandma, then obviously it’s a transmission site.


      1. Jenn said, “I think part of the “safe schools” confusion is that when people say schools aren’t big spreading sites, they are leaning more towards the former definition — you don’t get huge outbreaks. But they aren’t NO-spreader sites, and if your child is the one sitting next to the kid with the case and brings it home to you or grandma, then obviously it’s a transmission site.”

        I think you’re exactly right.

        In the late summer/fall, there was a lot of panic about schools as superspreader locations, due to some of the information coming out of Israel and that GA summer camp. But my impression from watching local schools is that that just isn’t happening. While one of our suburban local high schools made my hair stand on end with nearly 40 active cases just before Thanksgiving, they’re down to 16 active cases right now. Our suburban district has 7 active cases total across 6 elementary schools, 8 cases total in 2 intermediate schools, 3 cases in the middle school, and (again) 16 in the high school (with 7 being staff). You definitely don’t see runaway spread in the schools. (It’s a bit hard to compare because the high school is so much larger than the individual elementary schools, but it’s been quite common this fall for the elementary schools to have zero cases.) I would feel very comfortable sending a child to a public elementary school.

        We pulled our oldest out of school for the week after Thanksgiving, but as it turned out, there were no major negative events that week. The school COVID numbers that I’ve seen have been better ever since Thanksgiving. In fact, I think that (at least for the county community as a whole), Thanksgiving was a good thing because so many people wound up testing who might otherwise not have gotten tested. Our community’s COVID seems to have peaked just before Thanksgiving and has been trending down since. In fact, a lot of areas of the country are doing better than they were in November.


    2. Agree that Jenn’s assessment that some of the difference in assessment is whether the schools are sites of “outbreaks”: Are schools a source spreader events, or feeding back into the community increasing COVID infections, resulting in infections that result in serious health consequences?. Or are cases detected at the same level as in the community at large? And, the assessment depends on the mitigation measures, including masking.

      Another significant factor is the age of the children. I think there is reasonable evidence that schools with children <12 do not result in outbreaks. I think the evidence for older children is unclear and that high school might be reasonably modeled by college (where colleges do appear to be a source of outbreaks without significant measures additional in place).

      (The article link doesn't contain analysis of new data, but appears to be a summary of previous research and does not uniformly include universal masking as an important mitigation measure).


      1. Our high schools are limited to classes of 15 and on a quadrimester blended model. Two courses are taught at a time for half the term (rather than 4 a term), so my son attends class in person 2 mornings out of 4, the alternate mornings are independent study, and every afternoon is synchronous Zoom meetings for those classes (so out of 8 periods of study they have 2 in-person, 2 independent/asynchronous, and 4 synchronous online.)

        That means no changing classrooms, locker visits, or lunches (they have a ‘wellness walk’ for 15 minutes mid-morning.) That seems to have held high schools at rates of infection comparable to or lower than elementary schools.

        For my introvert kid, it’s turning out to be a good system. I am a bit worried about math being so compressed time-wise and like Laura, we are now paying for external tutoring to keep those skills up. To be fair, we were before, but with my business shaky it’s an expense I would have cut out if I thought we could get away with it. I’ve also been driving my kid and picking him up as normally he is on public transit for 40 minutes…it also keeps him moving after class rather than getting tempted to hang out a bit. It’s doable but only because I am working from home.

        I forget if I’ve said all that before but I find all the different approaches interesting. I am glad we chose in-person learning, but I wish our schools had been faster to shut individual schools down for 2 week chain transmission breaks.


    3. Schools had to close in March because we didn’t know whether 1) children would be at risk in schools — education is necessary but most of us wouldn’t be willing to risk 1/100 or 1/50 of our children dying at a school in order to educate them; 2) schools would be a source of community outbreaks (contributing to R0 and accelerating infections in the community; 3) staff and faculty at schools would be at significant risk; 4) remote learning would be an adequate replacement.

      We now have better evidence on all four of those concerns: children are not at high risk (mild infections, fatality rates very low); schools don’t seem to be a source of outbreaks (though they reflect community transmission); staff and faculty do not experience higher rates of infection than the community; and remote education does not work for many students (and for reasons that are not simply technical).

      We need to reassess plans about schools given the new information and the expectation that year-long learning is an essential service.


      1. bj said, “Schools had to close in March because we didn’t know whether 1) children would be at risk in schools — education is necessary but most of us wouldn’t be willing to risk 1/100 or 1/50 of our children dying at a school in order to educate them; 2) schools would be a source of community outbreaks (contributing to R0 and accelerating infections in the community; 3) staff and faculty at schools would be at significant risk; 4) remote learning would be an adequate replacement.”

        I agree with that and would add that the last 2 months of school typically aren’t an academically productive time and there’s a lot of fun fluff–field trips, field days, parties, award ceremonies, etc. So, I was pretty comfortable with sacrificing the end of the 2019-2020 school year. It was also not that bad for teachers to be finishing the year remote with kids that they already spent 3/4 of the school year in-person with.

        Starting the fall term remote was a completely different proposition.


    4. The willingness of school faculty and staff to work will be a factor in how and when schools can open. Some advocates seem to imagine that compelling people to work will be sufficient. But, some teachers will quit. I see the effect in private schools where there has been a fair amount of turnover. Teachers are both skilled and are not, usually, poor and may be able to wait out a year. Potentially replacements could be found, but I don’t think it will be easy if education is desired rather than just day care of children (though some parents would be willing to settle for daycare) and that might e a means of staffing (though I don’t think many parents would be willing to settle for potentially unsafe circumstances, with insufficient vetting of workers).

      Our superintendent just announced that she will leave in June, at the end of her contract. She is getting mediocre reviews, doesn’t feel that she has the support of the school board, and thinks she might be able to do better (her name is bandied about for Secretary of Education — she’s run for political office, connected in some circles, has a Harvard masters, and is of Blackfeet Indian descent).


      1. So educational outcome from a disrupted year (though not nearly as disrupted as you guys in the States).

        Here in NZ we had a 6 week session of remote learning in May/June, followed by another 3 weeks in August (though only in Auckland, where we live)

        Mr 13 has finished his school year, and I have the report in hand.

        No marks for the first half of the year. There is a ‘teacher assessment’ but no actual hard data.
        He’s pretty upset about this – as he rated Excellent in 2 of the subjects only taught in the first semester – so has missed out on the Excellence endorsement for them.
        [Excellence endorsement is given for the top 10% of students in any subject (provided they also meet the excellence critera for the subject) – so if there are only 2% of the students rating Excellent in Maths, then there can only be 2% Excellence endorsements; but if there are 12% rating Excellent in English, then the top 10% get an Excellence endorsement]

        There is a noticeable drop in his achievement marks, as the year progressed.
        I’m putting a lot of this down to his online gaming. During lockdown he developed the habit of rushing through his school work in a couple of hours, so he could spend the rest of his day gaming.
        Once he was back at school, he was highly motivated to spend as little time as possible completing his homework, and doing no test revision – so he could try to keep up the gaming time.
        I’m also not giving a lot of credit to the teachers who A) didn’t hand back work to be completed to their satisfaction, and B) didn’t contact me about his dropping marks and poor quality work.

        As a Mum trying to work from home, and manage everything else – I wasn’t sufficiently on top of this time sink (beating myself up for it now, but will learn for next year). I’m letting this cool for a couple of days, and then we’ll have a Come to Jesus meeting….

        He’s pretty gutted by the marks (should have been in contention for Excellence rating in 5 subjects (out of 10) – and only managed 1)

        So, along with the actual deficits in teaching and online learning – we also have to deal with undesirable learned behaviours…….


  13. Nice PNAS study — 45% is a pretty dramatic mask effect. Regarding efficacy, I think the issue is what happens when people unmask. For example, wearing masks most of the time in a grocery store combined with unmasked dining with others for 2 hours might result in people saying they wore a mask most of time time, but would still be a significant risk.

    A teacher I know says she has a HEPA fan in her classroom with a indicator light that’s supposed o say whether the air is being filtered. She says it goes red consistently when the children unmask to eat their lunches. She tries to mitigate her risk by sitting by an open window during that period while continuing to wear her mask (and, that might be good enough).

    I disagree that BIden is counting on masks as being 100% of the solution. The 100 day plan has 1) mask mandates where he thinks he can (public transportation, federal buildings) 2) rolling out 100M vaccines and 3) opening the majority of schools.


    1. bj said, “I disagree that BIden is counting on masks as being 100% of the solution. The 100 day plan has 1) mask mandates where he thinks he can (public transportation, federal buildings) 2) rolling out 100M vaccines and 3) opening the majority of schools.”

      I may have overstated it, but I think Biden is putting way too much faith in the ability to bump mask compliance up. I think we’re basically maxed out in terms of mask compliance in public spaces.

      My guess is that if there’s any room for improvement, it’s going to be in break rooms and back rooms in businesses–indoor spaces where there are multiple workers, but where the public doesn’t go. But for obvious reasons, it’s going to be a lot harder to regulate those spaces. At the same time, I have seen no effort to even talk to the public about not eating their work lunches indoors if they can help it.

      Matt Yglesias has a good piece here:

      He says that there hasn’t been nearly enough emphasis on ventilation, and I think that’s right.



    “Researchers with the [Iceland’s] Directorate of Health and deCODE genetics, a human-genomic company in Reykjavik, monitored every adult and child in the country who was quarantined after potentially being exposed this spring, using contact tracing and genetic sequencing to trace links between various outbreak clusters. This 40,000-person study found that children under 15 were about half as likely as adults to be infected, and only half as likely as adults to transmit the virus to others. Almost all the coronavirus transmissions to children came from adults.”

    “Iceland never closed its elementary schools, although it did close its high schools at the peak of its first surge. Data from its wave in September support the idea that younger children are less likely to get sick or to infect others.”

    “One recent preprint tracked 4,524 people from 2,267 houses in Geneva, Switzerland, from April through June. The researchers found that children from 5 to 9 were up to 22.7 percent less likely to be infected, and that their risk increased with age.”

    “The COVID Monitor, a group tracking information from more than 7,000 U.S. school districts, found that high school case rates are nearly three times that of elementary schools.”

    ““Transmission will occur in schools, just as it will anywhere that people mix,” Munro [a British researcher] says. “But children aren’t the drivers of disease.” Instead, it’s increasingly clear that in many countries, it’s people in their 20s and 30s who spark outbreaks that then spill over into both older people and children.”

    “Susanne Kuger, the director of the Center of Social Monitoring with the German Youth Institute, says that often “it’s adults transmitting disease, even in childcare settings,” as parents drop kids off, or staff mingle in a break room.”

    “Partly thanks to [Victoria’s Chief Health Officer’s] advice, Ireland left its schools open during the most recent lockdown while closing gyms, churches, restaurants, and non-essential businesses. Nevertheless, community infections have declined by 80 percent in six weeks.”


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