Anxiety about Anxiety

For the past two weeks, I’ve been interviewing mental health experts about teens. My editor asked for an article that isn’t tied to COVID, but it’s hard to avoid that topic in our conversations. These experts are predicting serious problems festering in the dark bedrooms of teens nation-wide. When (and if) the school doors open in September, mental health will be more important than academics.

These are tough conversations. I’ve never had to build in recovery time into a work schedule before, but I need that time now. I’m sick with worry.

But I don’t need those interviews to hear bad stories. The mainstream media is finally talking about it. Some examples can be found on my open tabs on my computer right now:

Our school district is currently in hybrid mode — kids have half a day of in-person school every other day. So, that means that five and six year old get six to nine hours of in-person school every week. On a good week. If the school closes to quarantine, they might go two or more weeks with no in-person school.

According to our mayor’s Facebook book, 16 people in our town tested positive last week. We have 25,000 residents. So, that means that school have been in hybrid mode in town with a less than 1 percent infection rate. In addition, since March, there have no been no documented cases that a single person has caught the infection in any one of the ten schools in our town.

Meanwhile, parents are on the brink of a nervous breakdown. What to do about it? My methods are to write, tweet, and give speeches at school board meetings. I can’t hide behind vague sentiments like “kids are resilient.”

But I also can’t swim in this sadness pool all day. It’s too much. I have to take care of my own family and just survive. So, despite this rather freaked out blog post, I’m doing fine. I’m posting happy pictures on Instagram of cooking and date nights. I’m going out with girlfriends for one last hurrah, before we give up wine for Lent; we’re paying Jonah to Uber us to a lovely wine bar about twenty minutes from here.

How do you balance your concern for the world with sanity?

50 thoughts on “Anxiety about Anxiety

  1. It’s really hard. I was part of a mom-tot group when my now-15 yr old was a baby and a group of us have kept in touch. Out of the 10 or so I’m still connected to, at least 2 have had serious enough issues with their teens during Covid that they have visited a hospital and started medication. One parent’s child shaved their head and their therapist wisely said “the teens need something, anything, they can control.”

    I’ve been thinking about that myself. The lack of control, esp where my kids and my business are concerned, is weighing on me lately. We’re pretty cosy as a family so that helps but wow, I am trying to focus on spring. I think it will be much better for a lot of reasons.

    Hang in there everyone!


  2. I am trying to practice the serenity poem. I am not by nature a doer. I like to think about things, figure them out in my head and understand them. In many cases, that’s a coping skill for me. But, I’ve realized in the pandemic (from the words of a friend who is a doer and has a main occupation that involves trying to fix things for people in serious distress) to work on whether I should be thinking so much about things that I can’t change.


    1. And, as someone who’s been ‘out’ of lockdown, then back ‘in’ again several times now – I’ve really noticed that each new lockdown bounces your anxiety levels way back up there again.

      We’ve just heard that we’re out of lockdown and back to Level 2 (no gatherings more than 100, but fairly normal life otherwise – and kids back at school). So this last one has just been 3 days.

      And, I’ve just realized that my anxiety level about Mr 13’s learning was through the roof. Which is ridiculous for a 3-day stint. Even if he did nothing, it’s not really going to matter (a bit like your snow days)
      But I was catapulted straight back into the ‘he’s not learning anything’ scenario from the big lockdown last year. Sort of a bit like PTSD (no, I’m not seriously comparing my experiences to a war zone)
      And he went straight back to the ‘I can game all day, and no one will care’ attitude.
      [We are not happy with each other, right now]

      I’m not really happy with my coping mechanisms, either. At some point ‘whatever gets you through’ needs to be reviewed to make sure it’s not making you worse off long-term.
      Something to think about, and work on.


    2. Ann said, “And he went straight back to the ‘I can game all day, and no one will care’ attitude.
      [We are not happy with each other, right now]”

      Some of my 10th grader’s classmates have mastered the art of being “in class” on-screen while simultaneously gaming on another computer screen.


  3. Are we sure the kids are all having problems because of covid? My son is in-person at school and anxiety is still an issue. He reads the news and is afraid of a coming right- wing dictatorship or terrorism (even though my wife and I both lie and say we don’t think that is a real possibility). It reminds me of growing up during the Cold War, except the people who keep saying they will bury me live within a half hour of my house.


  4. At best we might someday be able to estimate how much the response to COVID changed what would have happened to children’s mental health. In the meantime, the risks of COVID go up:
    Disturbing article from Israel, suggesting that long COVID may be far more common in children than many people realise.

    It is estimated >10% of children who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 now have long COVID.


    1. gj,

      I’m seeing that the case studies mentioned in your quote are of teens.

      I wonder if there’s a difference between pre-teen and teen COVID effects?


  5. I believe our ice storm started Thursday with a thick ice glaze on everything. We briefly had some good road conditions Saturday and my husband managed to get groceries and we also managed to get a grocery delivery, but I haven’t driven anywhere since Wednesday. We’ve spent the past 5 days either home or taking walks on the snow and ice around the neighborhood. I really can’t say when I’ll be able to drive safely or the kids will be back at school, as we’re getting more snow tomorrow (Wed). Depending on how it goes, the younger kids could easily have a full week of snow days, but I’m pretty sure that the cold snap is over by the weekend.

    The first few days, I was so busy dealing with immediate polar vortex issues (clear and sand the sidewalk, have 2nd grader go out and play, dry clothes, have 2nd grader go and play, more dry clothes, keep the entries mopped up, get groceries, load the dishwasher again, homeschooling with 2nd grader, is school going to be open, are we remote?) that I barely realized until yesterday that I was living in the middle of a statewide natural disaster. I had been dreading doing remote school for the 2nd grader and hoping that they would just cancel, but that was kind of a monkey’s paw wish on my part. We haven’t had remote school because so many people don’t have power. Hometown U. has also completely cancelled three days of classes so far for the same reason.

    One thing you notice right now is that it is virtually impossible to reach any businesses on the phone. We were planning/hoping to get donuts for Fat Tuesday today (husband and 10th grader were planning to walk there 40 minutes each way in the snow), but they weren’t answering their phone so we gave up. We have had our utilities on this whole time, but obviously that could change any time. We live close to campus and we’re thinking that Hometown U. has to keep the cafeterias open no matter what, so we’re not going to starve.


    1. The situation in Texas seems dire and at the least very unpleasant.

      We are done with our delightful (except for 90 year olds walking 6 miles in the snow to to get vaccines and college students flying back to college) 2-3 day snow. We got about 12 inches of perfect building snow, though more fell. The trees were perfectly coated and the snow people practically built themselves. I captured my first six pointed dendritic snowflake on camera. Kiddo who had been eager for the desperately desired break in quarantine went sledding and briefly skied down our hill and built a half igloo and two snowmen, one 12 feet tall and helped an Uber driver move his car. Lots of snow goals met.

      And, before it got rough, the snow melted away.


      1. bj said, “And, before it got rough, the snow melted away.”

        That’s how snow normally works in TX.

        Ice and snow that sticks around for more than a day or two is virtually unheard of.


  6. Wow — spent too much time on Twitter hopping threads about the weather and power outage. Hope your power stays on and all is well.

    We just had our Disneyland storm, but Texas looks scary.


    1. bj said, “Wow — spent too much time on Twitter hopping threads about the weather and power outage. Hope your power stays on and all is well.”


      My 10th grader reports that a classmate’s family is hosting a dozen storm refugees.


  7. Coming from another country where teacher unions have an unreasonably great influence on government policy – I really hear where you are coming from.

    I don’t want to advocate union breaking. I believe in the power of collective action. However, unions need to look beyond the *immediate* benefits to their members (especially if this is really about money, not fear of infection – as the article insinuated).

    Because if you get enough people mad at you – unions will be broken.
    It happened here (though not with teacher unions) – abuse of strike action resulted in more people being happy to break the union than wanted to keep it.
    [We had the Cook Strait ferries (only ‘road’ link between the North and South Islands) – on strike every Christmas holidays for years. And then there was the ‘bridge to nowhere’ – essential motorway connection over Mangere Bridge – a six month job that nearly took nearly 3 years due to industrial action]
    The cumulative public disgust with self-serving actions – resulted in a government mandate to effectively make quick strike action illegal (you can’t strike while negotiations are ongoing). Combined with Union membership becoming voluntary, this pretty much gutted the union movement in those industries. Membership has dropped drastically in NZ (fewer than 10% are union members).
    If the teachers’ unions think it can’t happen to them, they should think again.

    Parents will be looking at private and parochial schools – freely operating in-person classes – and wondering why they should continue to send their kids to state schools – when it’s going to result in such serious disadvantage to the kids.
    And, then, why they should continue to support funding for state schools, when they’re not using them?


    1. A NY Times article that summarizes what’s happening on the West Coast, including quotes from the Portland Teacher’s Union president (Oregon prioritized vaccinating teachers over older people, but the Portland union doesn’t think that’s enough). The article says that the west coast is especially slow with any movement on opening schools. That is indeed the case in my assessment. On Dec 17th, Seattle Public Schools said it would bring K-1 (that’s all) back (some of the time) by March. They’ve now said that’s not going to happen (because they need to negotiate a new MOU with the teacher’s union). Seattle, if it was assessed as a region, would be in the CDC’s “yellow zone”. The county is in the orange zone, but with cases dropping regularly.

      Marguerite Roza, a Seattle resident is quoted talking about union power/progressive government being a potential slowdown (also, elected school boards). I do think a factor is the lack of a viable opposition (in the eyes of many in Seattle) — i.e. the Republican party is dead. Across the state, we do have a Republican secretary of state, who was fairly vocal on the security of our all mail-in elections and 2/3 Republican congresspeople voted in favor of impeachment. We have non-partisan primaries, so maybe they’ll survive? And, maybe there will be a viable opposition in WA?

      Interesting aside of 35% of teachers being vaccinated (Which states are giving teachers vaccines, explicitly? Oregon? Virginia? and, some teachers maybe over 65 or fit in other categories).


  8. Laura tweeted, “One small point, Strauss says that schools need $$ for COVID safety protocols. Absolutely true. The fed gov’t SHOULD be paying for masks and all that. But what happened to the $$ that they already sent to school districts? What happened to CARES Act money? Nobody can tell me.”

    There’s apparently a lot of school reopening money sitting around unspent.

    Some more points:

    –I suspect that some school districts are using their reopening money to fund classroom monitors to allow teachers to continue to teach remotely, which they deem “reopening.”
    –I don’t have a link for this, but I saw something in passing yesterday where somebody was looking at the budget for the proposed reopening funding, and only a small fraction of the money was designated for 2021. So, it’s worth looking into when the reopening money is supposed to be spent.
    –Any of the more expensive measures (like completely revamping school HVAC systems) are also going to take a very, very long time. That measure alone could shut down schools for the 2021-2022 school year. Meanwhile, there are faster, less expensive measures–higher quality HVAC filters, air purifiers, use outdoor spaces, use large rooms, open windows, use high quality masks, etc.


    1. Our district has been fully remote since March.

      My kid, who’s turned 14 during the pandemic, was diagnosed with ADHD about 5 years ago. He struggled in school till 5th grade, but, first with medication, and then without it, got on top of things — for the two years before the pandemic he was really on top of things. He’s an immensely talented singer, and was taking lessons, and excelling. He now has serious anxiety, has learned almost nothing, is struggling with depression. He had his final singing lesson today — he wanted to quit, and made it impossible for me to keep him in. He doesn’t really sleep.

      A recent communication from our superintendent confirmed that 3rd quarter would be fully remote. My guess is that we won’t get back till September. The communication said absolutely nothing about the importance of getting teachers vaccinated. Partly, this is because the school board doesn’t think that reopening matters. They might believe, and might be right, that in my city there will be no political cost for this. A good number of parents — and an alarming number of professors — seem to think that wanting in-person teaching of any kind marks one (me) down as a Trumpist or worse (because, in wanting some sort of in-person teaching, we actively want to kill people).

      My university campus has a small amount of in-person teaching. It is all masked and socially distanced, small classes only. There is no evidence at all that it contributes to infection. I have been lucky enough to do all my teaching in-person, and, like everyone I’ve spoken to who has done it on my campus, its obvious to me that it is safe. But I am pretty certain that most of my colleagues (not, though, in my department) strongly disapprove. My daughter is a PhD student here in another department — she says that almost all her peers, and several of her professors, excoriate the administration for keeping some teaching in person, and express disapproval of anyone who does it. So much for following the science. (An aside, I’m no great fan of tenure, but right now I am quite grateful for it). The department of Curriculum and Instruction, which houses teacher education, refuses to do any in-person teaching (although I know that some people wanted to, but were shut down by colleagues). That’s an indication of how deep the anti-in-person teaching goes. Of course, I know that some of the people who are opposed to teaching in person on our campus, and for that matter, opposed to the schools opening, have their kids in private schools here which are open in person. So that doesn’t sit well.

      I’ve been reading the blog throughout the pandemic. I feel like a bit of a crazy person, worrying about the learning loss, and the terrible mental health consequences of the prolonged absence of human contact for this generation, and the frankly dreadful ‘virtual learning’, but being surrounded by people who seem to believe it is no big deal. Reading your posts has helped keep me a bit saner. (Sorry I haven’t commented for ages – I had so many experiences trying to comment, and it getting eaten, and rather gave up).


      1. Oh, the reason that I am glad of tenure is that I have done all my teaching in person since September. (My daughter perpetually warns me that I’ll be cancelled when this is all over, because I have not just been teaching in person but have been very visible, and vocal in my support of in-person teaching). Students are movingly appreciative — its really touching to be approached, regularly, by one student or another just thanking me for doing my job.


      2. That sounds utterly awful for you, and for your son.
        It seems unbelievable that people who (individually, I’m sure) care about kids – can fanatically embrace a remote learning solution which is clearly damaging them.

        Do you have any chance of transferring him to a private school? It seems as though any other solution (i.e. fighting for in-person school) is going to waste your time and energy and not move the education bureaucracy.

        I feel so much for your boy – I think it is really only in-person musical theatre that’s bringing my 13-year-old back to normality. For your son to feel so miserable that he wants to give up singing just breaks my heart.


      3. Thanks, Harry. Sorry that your comments have gotten eaten. Not sure what happened.

        Yes, I’m seriously worried about kids, including yours. Have you reached out to a professional outside of school for him? Ian is seeing someone right now, who is helping him with his OCD tics which increased this year. She’s using CBT, which is similar to ABA, so he’s comfortable with the philosophy behind it. Jonah has had issues over the years, which I don’t feel comfortable talking about on a public forum.

        I’m the least susceptible to anxiety/depression in this house, so I’ve had to take on the job of keeping everyone sane. It’s been hard, because I can never give into my own black thoughts. If I do, I’ll bring down everyone with me.

        What’s worked in my house — manditory daily exercise, regular schedules, weekend trips to hike and to take some risks with indoor dining. But keep an eye on the warning signs and reach out to professionals for help. Telehealth has come a long way this year.

        Glad that you’re doing in-person classes. Jonah hasn’t had that since last March. Two of his classes this year are YouTube videos of a professor reading powerpoint slides. It’s so depressing. He so disconnected from school and his classmates. It’s just god awful.


      4. harry wrote, “A good number of parents — and an alarming number of professors — seem to think that wanting in-person teaching of any kind marks one (me) down as a Trumpist or worse (because, in wanting some sort of in-person teaching, we actively want to kill people).”

        It’s like there isn’t a vaccine or that it’s a coin flip as to whether it offers any protection at all.

        Has there not been enough public discussion of how miraculously effective the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are, or would that sound too much like snake oil? Some of my twitter people have been saying that there may have been too much talking down of the vaccine with regard to post-vaccine transmission and too much insisting that fully vaccinated people need to carry on with precisely the same level of precautions as before indefinitely. It would be easy to carry away from that the idea that the vaccines don’t do much.

        I suspect that remote college is especially bad for ADHD kids, who already struggle a lot with college completion. Remote college removes a lot of urgency and structure from kids’ lives, as well as the peer pressure of being physically around other students who are going to class, participating, and turning in work. (Same goes for high school of course, but I think it’s worse for college, because there’s typically so much less supervision and support at that level.)

        My oldest is a college freshman. Aside from living at home with her family as usual, being able to go to class in-person is the one reasonably normal thing in her life. Aside from academics, in-person class provides her with the need to do at least an hour a day of walking back and forth, which is really valuable even just in terms of fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.


      5. I appreciate that you (and Ian) also think that CBT is similar to ABA. I once said that to a [very famous] autism researcher when ABA was first being validated and got a serious narrow eyed look. Sometimes I think psychologists get wedded to alphabet soup terminology.


    2. AmyP, revamping HVAC systems is very, very expensive. It would be helpful if someone could work up a model of the average cost per average school. I’ve seen school systems decide to build entirely new school buildings, rather than try to retrofit such systems. Boilers, generators, pumps, and such systems are incredibly expensive.

      I do think there have been incredible advances made in construction technology. Some years ago, people started talking about net negative buildings. Improving things above a basic box takes money, of course, but at a certain point, it makes no financial sense to retrofit a building, especially when running costs over time are taken into account.

      I don’t like the systems which require the windows to be closed, with a central heating or cooling system. That has been a part of the “passive house” standard—I don’t know if that’s been changed in the face of covid. There are many older buildings built that way though–office buildings, hotels, schools, etc. Think of all the skyscrapers built in the cities, with their pretty, shiny glass faces. Every hotel room I’ve stayed in over the years with central HVAC systems has been both too hot and too cold.

      Ironically, though, there are much older buildings, predating the invention of central heating, which could be adapted. The design of many antique houses, with windows that open, allowing light and air to circulate, is to be preferred.

      So the field is open for some brilliant young architects to develop a new school of architecture. Perhaps they should design buildings that can be printed, so that it won’t take decades to replace existing buildings.


  9. It’s not necessarily great other places—unions are quite weak where I live, and we’ve been in hybrid mode for most of the year. However, every k-12 teacher I personally know has gotten covid from school. In january, despite high community rAtes (2nd highest county in the state), schools stopped hybrid and abandoned social distancing, going back full-time. Two weeks later, 50 kids from high school are in quarantine, but we’re still going full steam ahead. I am terrified of getting it from my kid, but we’ve kept her in school. If our society had wanted to prioritize schools opening, we could have poured money into extra teachers and portables to improve social distancing; we could have put more air purifiers in classrooms; we could have staggered schedules around the year. We didn’t because education isn’t a real priority for us.


    1. Miranda said, “we could have poured money into extra teachers and portables.”

      You’d have to literally double the number of classrooms and teachers to halve class size while keeping kids in class full-time–at least with the same schedule. Even if it were possible to get that many portables, we can’t double the number of teachers available.

      “we could have staggered schedules around the year.”

      That’s a really good idea, and this may be the first time I’ve seen it mentioned in terms of reducing class size.

      Summer is a big fat chunk of time–but you’d still need to staff that.

      My fear/expectation is that (given the push to get warm adult bodies into the classroom) what we’re moving toward is a collapse in staffing and instructional quality, especially for poorer schools. We’re already seeing it with the move toward staffing in-person classrooms with “classroom monitors.”


    2. I absolutely love getting all the perspectives, I feel like we are in bubbles everywhere.

      “every k-12 teacher I personally know has gotten covid from school”

      It is difficult to conclude that anyone got COVID in a particular location absent some serious analysis. The best evidence would be the contact/gene sequencing tracing that we have heard about in New Zealand. And, we don’t do those analyses in the US. The scientist in me finds that very frustrating, because we are generally left with the inability to conclude how an individual was exposed to the virus (and, then sometimes come to conclusions that overestimate certain risks and underestimate others).

      Our local radio station did a report on a reporter who had gotten COVID and tried to analyze where she might have gotten it and couldn’t think of any likely answer (spouse was the most likely possibility, but he had tested negative; they considered random passers by on her walk and her dog).


      1. “It is difficult to conclude that anyone got COVID in a particular location absent some serious analysis. The best evidence would be the contact/gene sequencing tracing that we have heard about in New Zealand.”

        We’ve had 3 outbreaks now which have affected people in schools (teachers and students).
        The first (and largest) one was right at the beginning – when our tracing wasn’t so good. It was a large (more than 90 people) cluster at a high school affecting teachers, students and families. The best theory is that Covid was brought in by a teacher (attending another function where Covid was subsequently found), and spread at a school function where families were attending (Pasifika festival – lots of singing, dancing, hugs, etc). Some students did catch it, (although most seem to have caught it off family members, rather than at school) – but it was more widely spread across the teaching staff and families.

        The other two have both involved students who were attending school while they were Covid positive (no information on how contagious they were – since you can’t measure that). In one case no one else within the school community was affected. In the most recent one, 2 other high-school students (BFF of original case and her brother) caught it. Both were non symptomatic – but caught through the intensive contact tracing and testing which swung into place.
        It seems possible that the BFF may have caught it from her friend outside the school environment – but can’t be sure.
        But certainly no transmission to teachers, or to other classmates (even with no social distancing in schools – or masking)
        It’s also interesting/relevant that she was present at school only on the first day of term – and is highly likely to have been Covid positive/contagious on that day (she started symptoms the next day). Which means that she was part of the usual teenage girl gush about seeing friends, and hugs, and intense face-to-face chatter – which is all part of the first day of school experience. Logically, this would be an optimal spreading time – but it didn’t happen.

        Our experience is that schools (as in classroom operations – not festival events) are much less likely to spread Covid than other groupings of people. The biggest spreader-events for us have been churches (especially evangelical ones), bars, weddings, etc.

        I don’t know how much of this is down to kids just being a less effect vector for the virus than adults.


      2. “Our local radio station did a report on a reporter who had gotten COVID and tried to analyze where she might have gotten it and couldn’t think of any likely answer (spouse was the most likely possibility, but he had tested negative; they considered random passers by on her walk and her dog).”


      3. “Our local radio station did a report on a reporter who had gotten COVID and tried to analyze where she might have gotten it and couldn’t think of any likely answer (spouse was the most likely possibility, but he had tested negative; they considered random passers by on her walk and her dog).”

        We’ve had 2 community outbreaks now, where, despite state of the art Covid tracing and sequencing, they have not been able to trace the pathway.

        In the most recent case – they have someone (who is the most probably first case), who works at an air-port company (providing meals and laundry services for airlines). She works on the laundry side – so transmission via laundry is a remote possibility (‘fomite’ transfer on woven materials is apparently the least likely contagion pathway – but it is still possible).

        She has no contact with any travellers or people in quarantine (as in a totally different building, no chances of even walking past). And all of the other employees have been tested – and no cases – so she can’t have picked it up from one of them.

        The variety she has is *not* linked to any of the other cases we’ve had in NZ quarantine – based on genetic testing.
        So, where did it come from?

        The current theory is that it *is* fomite transfer – and it’s come from an aircraft crew member who is asymptomatic, and has not yet been tested at home base. (Of course, they wouldn’t necessarily inform us if s/he did turn out to have Covid, and probably wouldn’t do a gene sequence).

        We’ve locked down all the usual avenues of transmission, and are now getting the weird, exceptional cases.


      4. Ann said, “We’ve locked down all the usual avenues of transmission, and are now getting the weird, exceptional cases.”



  10. I live in BC, Canada. Our children have been going to K-12 school this school year and while we have had a few outbreaks where a school was temporarily shut down, overall the students are being educated. School is not normal though. The local high school has switched from a two semester system with four classes each day to 10-week terms with two three-hour classes each day. It’s been challenging for the teachers. Educators are encouraged to take their classes outside for breaks. Students must wear masks.

    A teacher friend has reported that the 10-week; 3-hour per day per class system has benefited some students who previously struggled. It seems that the daily deep dive into content benefits some learners. It makes one wonder how disadvantaged these kids were during “regular” timetables.

    University and colleges are pretty much all online with the exception of programs that require in-person training (nursing etc). My daughter is in 2nd year science and seriously considered taking winter term off after her fall term experience. I worry a lot about her and her friends.


    1. Gem said: ” The local high school has switched from a two semester system with four classes each day to 10-week terms with two three-hour classes each day. ”

      Gosh, that would be really hard for many of the boys at my son’s high-school. They really need that physical break between subjects (the flood-tide of boys at the end of each period looks overwelming and uncontrolled – but it’s actually bleeding off a lot of energy).

      Also hard to be stuck for 3 hours in a subject you don’t much like, or with a teacher you don’t get on with.

      I’d say for every kid benefiting, there will be one (or more) who are struggling.


    2. In schools where I’ve seen the block scheduling tried (not 3 hours, I think, maybe 2?), there’s break time built into the 3 hours. And work time. The kids who didn’t like it were ones who did not want to work in the class and who did not need teacher help on an interactive basis to do their work.

      I do like the blocking it provides for keeping students together (though that wasn’t why it was tried in the school I know of, prepandemic).


  11. I have relatives who teach in local school systems. I gather the schools are all in person, right now, although it’s a sort of hybrid, staggered model. They have not caught the dread disease. We are very cautious about contact, though; they effectively create pods in their personal life. Whereas we would see them in person frequently last year, for this year we’ve all been talking on the phone and through grexts.

    As for dissatisfaction with schools this year, though, how much stems from parents finally being able to witness instruction in action? How many students really can’t read? Instruction on the internet requires reading for access. When a student’s physically in school, parents may take it on faith that they are being taught, especially when the report card seems positive.

    It’s been a stressful year. At some point, we have to accept that life contains risk. Fear has no boundaries. It is immune to reason, because it is ancient. But if you’re too afraid to leave the cave, you starve to death.


    1. Cranberry said: “As for dissatisfaction with schools this year, though, how much stems from parents finally being able to witness instruction in action? ”

      Maybe some. But, most parents who are dissatisfied are seeing kids, who were previously doing well, failing to learn. And, that their kids are commenting that the level/quality/quantity of online instruction is far below what they were used to experiencing in person.

      I don’t believe that it’s the job of the school to provide a social environment for my kid (although that’s a nice side benefit). I do believe it’s their job to provide education in a format which enables him to learn. And, where online learning is rote repetition (as Laura discussed with the professor who just reads slides) – I do feel that the educator/school has failed.



    “The second dose of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine could be delayed in order to cover all priority groups as the first one is highly protective, two Canada-based researchers said in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine.”

    “The vaccine had an efficacy of 92.6% after the first dose, Danuta Skowronski and Gaston De Serres said, based on an analysis of the documents submitted by the drugmaker to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

    That’s what the Brits are doing. Barely anybody in the UK has gotten a second dose and their new cases and deaths are crashing hard with the dread Brit mutant version–both down 45% over the last two weeks, and new cases down to a fraction of what they were at peak around Jan. 10.

    I’m still a bit ambivalent about the delayed second dose schedule (and suspect that especially vulnerable populations ought to have both as soon as possible), but it is true that prioritizing second dose has been a huge logistical hold-up in the US.

    A first-doses-first policy has some implications for speeding up US school reopening.


    1. California is doing really well, too (my guesstimates, 21/100K for CA, 19/100K for UK, 23/100K TX, and WA, rocking at 11/100K). I think analyzing effects of vaccines/1 v 2 doses, etc. needs more regression to all the different variables. The general trend is improvement all around right now, which is very exciting. Here’s an article from The Atlantic on the US drop:

      The author suggests behavior, seasonality, infection/resistance, and vaccines as all potential contributing factors.


      1. bj said, “California is doing really well, too (my guesstimates, 21/100K for CA, 19/100K for UK, 23/100K TX, and WA, rocking at 11/100K).”

        Whoa, I was just looking at the NYT CA COVID page, and that is very dramatic–cases down 51% over the past 14 days and deaths down 30%.

        TX stats are going to be a mess for the next week or so, so I’m trying not to even look. My county is taking 6 (!) days off from updating their dashboard. They are trying to do one of their vaccine clinics this weekend, though, with a delayed start.

        “The author suggests behavior, seasonality, infection/resistance, and vaccines as all potential contributing factors.”

        Here’s my totally non-expert take on this–I think that COVID is really “tippy,” so small changes wind up having outsize effects.


  13. Here’s a story from yesterday:

    My husband got contacted by a graduate student that they had just lost their water for some reason (one apartment was having some sort of water heater issues and management shut everybody off). I believe they have two little kids at home now. Her husband came over to our house to fill up a couple of 5 gallon buckets and some other containers. When he turned on one of our outside faucets, we discovered that our outdoor faucets (which all had the standard cold weather covers on) had frozen.


    They blew out a hairdryer trying to thaw it. Eventually, the graduate student’s husband went off to get his blow torch and they thawed the faucets out. Just as they were finishing up, I googled the advice on this and it turns out that a blow torch (while popular!) is discouraged for this type of task.

    Hopefully nothing horrible happened. We’ve literally never had to do this before.

    We’re not supposed to go above 31 today, but it’s supposed to hit 38 tomorrow and 49 Saturday, so that will be the end of some of our problems. The city says that they have 25% of normal water treatment capacity and they’ve asked residents to conserve water in order to avoid a boil order (which has happened already to some communities).

    The school kids wound up getting the whole week completely off of school but will hopefully be back in school Monday. Our college kid has gotten 4 days completely off so far, and we fully expect that Friday will also be cancelled. The college has only been announcing one day at a time, perhaps to avoid having the college students drive home or fly off to Cancun.


    1. Good news about the temperatures rising it’s huge and changes everything. Hope that the water issues get fixed, because being without water is dreadful. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to me in the Unite States (other than brief scheduled maintenance, and I’ve never experienced a boil order).


      1. We’ve lost water at times during blizzards and hurricanes. Water mains also break in cities around here. My theory is that the pipes eventually reach their expiration dates; most of the big systems were built more than a century ago.

        This was a large break (although the pipe was not ancient):

        We keep a supply of water in the back of a closet for such occasions. You can search online for instructions about how to set water aside, with a little bleach and a supply of bottles. Filling up the tub has never worked for me, so I reuse large Poland Springs bottles.


      2. Cranberry said, “We’ve lost water at times during blizzards and hurricanes. Water mains also break in cities around here.”

        It does happen from time to time that–oops!–road construction hits a water line and then everybody in the surrounding area has their water shut off for the day. But extended loss of water is less familiar.

        “We keep a supply of water in the back of a closet for such occasions. You can search online for instructions about how to set water aside, with a little bleach and a supply of bottles. Filling up the tub has never worked for me, so I reuse large Poland Springs bottles.”

        We have a certain amount of water as part of our tornado/storm supplies, and we actually did our yearly check a few weeks ago and replaced some of the water and replaced the stale crackers and snack bars. We have some sort of water purification tablets in there. Husband just added an ax for good measure. That’s in our laundry room, which is our designated tornado shelter. We’ve had a number of tornado systems come through over the years. (Our town had a devastating tornado some decades ago.)

        The city is telling people please not to fill bathtubs with water, as if everybody did that, it could precipitate the failure of the water system.

        I had kind of forgotten the relevance of our emergency supplies to our current situation until yesterday, because I’m so used to thinking of it as “the tornado box.” That’s been the paradigmatic disaster situation for our area, although we also had rolling blackouts during one especially hot summer when the electric system was under a lot of strain.

        The main campus Starbucks was open today. We walked there for morale-boosting treats and also did some shopping at the nearby campus convenience store for some extremely expensive staples. Their canned goods were just about nonexistent. I was hoping for some milk, but the cashier said that the last quart got sold Sunday. But we got some other necessaries (tea, pancake mix, disposable plates, etc). We’re running out of milk (we last shopped 5 days ago), but we have some buttermilk powder we’re planning on using for pancakes. We’re pretty sure we can get to the real store Saturday, and tomorrow is maybe a 50% chance, depending how well the roads melt. Hometown U. is using the gym as a warming station and is offering emergency food for pickup there. They have separate entrances depending on COVID situation. As expected, the cafeterias are running.

        Quick note: one of the things that has caused a lot of aggravation in TX is that going into this, people were told that there would be “rolling blackouts,” but that isn’t what happened. Some people lost power and heat for days, while others (like ourselves) haven’t lost it for 5 whole minutes. Somebody has some ‘splaining to do about that, because if it had been rolling blackouts, it wouldn’t have been as bad as it has been.


      3. My understanding is they weren’t able to “roll” because of continuing instability in the grid. They turned off power, and then didn’t have enough control to turn off another area and turn on the first. And, they tried to keep power on to vital areas, thus folks on the same section of grid kept their power. You don’t roll your blackout through hospitals, for example.

        In CA, they did successfully manage the rolling blackouts in August. But, the closure for high winds and fear of power line caused wildfires were not rolling.


      4. Good news: “Rolling” blackouts are over now in TX, and the only people without power still are the 300,000 or so people cut off due to normal storm damage. (I’m not entirely clear if that’s households or customers, but that’s the number they use.)

        Bad news: Millions in TX are now having water issues.

        Our city says that they need much lower household use until Saturday to avoid a boil order.


  14. I was just looking at this.

    Will Truman tweeted, “We should probably be hiring teachers to teach the 13th grade, when the dust clears. (More likely we’re just going to socially promote on a scale previously unknown. But I’m serious that we need to start staffing for remediation rather than relying on community colleges.)”

    @RogueWPA replied, “I scan the smoldering landscape from behind my aviator glasses as I chew on a cigar before I mumble, half to myself and half to my aide-de-camp who is furiously scribbling notes, “my God, the causal identification for human capital vs signaling will be glorious.”

    I’m assuming this is a reference to Bryan Caplan’s book, “The Case Against Education,” which largely deals with the question of to what extent formal education actually increases skills versus just signals intelligence and diligence. (Caplan thinks it’s primarily signaling.)

    I’ve often thought that the school disruption of 2020-? is perhaps the biggest unethical experiment in history.


    1. Well. That’s a high bar. After all, the 21st century has just started. IF the internet did not exist, we would never have tried this experiment. As it is, I remember a sentence from an Atlantic article from the ’90s. I would be grateful if anyone could find that article online, as it predated the internet for me.

      At any rate, as I recall, it was a quote from a Forbes technology editor (?), who said, around the turn of the century, something like, “The rich will have teachers, and the poor will have computers.”

      Here we are, about 20 years later, and…it is true.

      Does anyone remember Clayton Christensen, of the “disruptive innovation” fame? I searched the “Education Next” site, to find this (from 2013!) :

      When Disrupting Class hit the bookstores five years ago, it contained a prediction that stunned many: by 2019, we said, 50 percent of all high school courses would be delivered online in some form or fashion. The prediction was built off of data from third-party sources that had been collected over the previous eight years on the number of students taking online courses. At the time, calculations using that data also indicated that the majority of the online learning would occur in blended-learning environments.

      What they got wrong was that people would like it. This enormous experiment has shoved the flaws of online instruction into parents’ faces.


    2. Cranberry said,

      “Well. That’s a high bar.”

      Sorry–I should have said US history.

      “At any rate, as I recall, it was a quote from a Forbes technology editor (?), who said, around the turn of the century, something like, “The rich will have teachers, and the poor will have computers.”

      Oh, man, I remember hearing that.

      It didn’t sound very realistic at the time.


  15. This is interesting from Eran Segal, the Israeli scientist who has done a lot of tweets tracking the effects of the Israeli vaccination program:

    “Israel: Vaccinating young people may help block the spread of COVID-19
    5 weeks ago vaccines opened to 16-18 y/o. The army also vaccinated 19-21 y/o
    2 weeks after 1st dose, these groups dropped >50% in cases, compared to <30% drop in 13-15 y/o and 22-24 y/o who were not vaxed."



    More from Israel.

    Bloomberg tweets: “Pfizer’s Covid vaccine stopped 89.4% of transmission in Israel, the first real-world sign that immunization will curb the spread of coronavirus.”

    Presumably, this could explain why the drop-off in cases has been so dramatic–not only are vaccinated people not getting it, very few of them are spreading COVID.

    There’d been a lot of media and public health messaging for the last month or two about how we don’t really know if the vaccine reduces transmission, which has probably had the effect of a) reducing motivation to get vaccinated in important populations and b) increasing teacher reluctance to return to school.

    Earlier this week, Laura retweeted Ayelet Waldman who was saying, “Reporters need to stop saying, “If you’re vaccinated you can still transmit.” We don’t know this and there is no reason to assume it. Say you don’t know.”

    We do know now that there is a substantial reduction in transmission, so that particular talking point needs to go.


  17. I was chatting a bit with a librarian this week and wondering out loud what all those local people with chickens did with them during the Texas freeze. She told me that she knew somebody local who had spent much of the week living with baby calves in their house.

    (My family occasionally brings a newborn baby calf in for an especially cold night, but a whole week with multiple baby calves in your house–man!)


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