The Tail of the Pandemic

Steve and I got our second dose of Pfizer on Friday morning with all the usual side effects. My brother is still limping from the gout, a rare side effect from his second dose.

Although it was initially tough to get a vax in Northern New Jersey, that situation shifted almost over night. Now, every conversation with friends and acquaintances includes gossip about vaccine types, the best locations, and side effects. Vaccines have replaced the weather as small talk.

With a growing confidence about life returning to normal, attention turns to things that are still not normal. Schools are a biggie. They are still not open full time here, which means that parents are still struggling. And parents here are very much in solidarity with parents in cities whose schools are still shut.

And as older parents, conversation also includes discussions about the college students. The fate of college kids has gotten very little attention in the press, because there are so few journalists in mainstream who cover that topic. Based on every conversation that I had this weekend, parents and college students are pissed off.

Jonah had a bad moment last week, when I thought that he wasn’t to return next the fall. He said that he spends 18 hours a day on a computer for school work and social life, and he wants to hurl the thing out his window. He’ll go back. But the past year and a half has been horrible. His classes have been all remote since March of 2020. Two of his classes this semester consist of an adjunct professor droning through PowerPoint slides on YouTube.

His professors must have given up or be highly dispirited. One does not answer emails, so Jonah had to get the chair involved. The back and forth of emails and keeping track of the lack of responses is just one more task in his day. Another professor missed four classes. Another one still hasn’t graded his midterm. Two finished the semester a week before finals.

Is there a silent strike going on at his school? It feels like it.

There’s a chance that schools still won’t open fully in September, despite all sorts of excellent data showing that schools are safe. This will be devastating for women and employment. I think lots of women have given up on full time employment for good. But now, women are going to expect to get paid for staying home.

Frustration with education is one few times that I see an overlap between Twitter chatter and real life chatter. If schools don’t open in September, women’s employment will be only one of the casualties.

26 thoughts on “The Tail of the Pandemic

  1. It’s hard to have compassion for the profs (adjuncts? get even more) when you know students are so impacted and even students with great home support are getting that demotivated. I’m glad the crisis passed.

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    1. I’m glad the crisis passed too. Students across the board have had a rough year. One couple I know – one a high school teacher, the other a special ed teacher – were talking about giving their students their cell numbers to be the contact point in case they feel suicidal, because they are not getting that support from home or elsewhere. Rural schools were always a mess and this has just exacerbated the situation.

      At the other end of the spectrum, my sister is a beloved creative writing prof at a nice SLAC, teaching an upper-level elective centered on workshopping stories, and even her students aren’t showing up some of the time.

      I’d have to know more about the adjuncts’ situation to decide whether to have compassion for them. There’s no excuse for not returning emails, but did they have access to training and tech support for creating an effective online or Zoom course? Did they get Zoom pro licenses (with features like polling, which helps with student engagement) and access to quiet university offices with good internet and large desktop computers (much easier to teach when you can view your class and your powerpoint at the same time)? Did their chairs meet with them regularly to talk about what works online and what doesn’t? Did they get paid anything to convert their courses?

      I found this from 2018; it sounds like the adjunct pay for classes at Rutgers is pretty good ($5000), relative to other public universities – though I imagine cost of living is quite high, and I don’t know how big the classes are. No affordable health care, either. 70% of Rutgers faculty are part-time and teach 30% of the courses; that’s a lot. They do have a union, so maybe they did get some of these things. (https://www.njspotlight.com/2018/04/18-04-12-beyond-signs-and-slogans-what-does-rutgers-adjunct-faculty-want/)

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  2. Here in Pittsburgh, there is a growing movement among parents to overthrow the school board and superintendent because they will not reopen schools full time in the fall. It’s ridiculous that we have 1/3 fewer students, 1/3 more money, and all the time in the world to figure out the HVAC and other issues, and we are still not reopening full time. It doesn’t help anyone, especially not the kids who need it the most.

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    1. Melissa said, “Here in Pittsburgh, there is a growing movement among parents to overthrow the school board and superintendent because they will not reopen schools full time in the fall.”

      Oh my goodness! What are they waiting for? 50% of Pennsylvanians have gotten at least a first dose.

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      1. All the teachers have been vaccinated for months. No idea other than the union and board can’t come to an agreement on what it will look like.

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      1. MH, are you in Pittsburgh? We could start a fan club. Anyway, check out Black Women for a Better Education. They are posting candidates in all eligible school districts in PPS this election. Good group asking good questions about where the money goes.

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  3. Laura wrote,

    “Steve and I got our second dose of Pfizer on Friday morning with all the usual side effects.”

    So far, our worst side effect was the 16-year-old–he had a painfully swollen lymph node under his arm on the shot side for a couple of days. Our 18-year-old gets her second shot this week…right between her last two college exams. We offered to move it, but she’s fine with the timing. As of May 19, all of us except the 8-year-old should be fully vaccinated. We sent our 16-year-old back to PE today, with my blessing to not wear a mask if he finds it physically taxing–he’s 10 days past his second shot and this is the same group of kids he spends 90% of his time with.

    “Although it was initially tough to get a vax in Northern New Jersey, that situation shifted almost over night.”

    My local paper in TX says that what’s changed now is that it’s possible to get a shot within days. They haven’t seen a slowdown yet…but presumably they’re going to work through the eager pretty fast. The last time I did the math, Texas was vaccinating 2/3 of a person per 100 every day, while the US as a whole is doing 3/4 of a person per 100 every day. The local hospitals have been slowly emptying out. Looking at our suburban school district, none of the schools have any staff cases, 6/10 schools have no active COVID at all, and there are 8 kid cases total across 10 schools in an 8k kid school district.

    Regarding what Melissa said earlier, I’ve heard Monica Gandhi (MD MPH) say that a 20% increase in adult COVID vaccination yields a 50% decrease in kid COVID cases, and I totally believe it. Throw in the other recent stat about one COVID shot yielding a 50% decrease in household transmission, and suddenly you’re cooking with gas. You get a lot of bang for your buck with these vaccinations.

    “Is there a silent strike going on at his school? It feels like it.”

    While my college freshman’s school is in person, it does feel like class gets cancelled a lot faster than it would have in the past. If a professor says that a make-up video is going to go up…it actually takes a loooong time for the video to be digested by the university system.

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  4. NY Times says that NJ & NY might let businesses open up by Mid may! We, on the other hand, are supposedly going to decrease our business occupancy. But, maybe our cases are reaching a plateau? We’re moving apace with vaccinations, but maybe our declines in case rates are delayed because of a lowing preexisting covid rate?

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    1. bj said, “But, maybe our cases are reaching a plateau? We’re moving apace with vaccinations, but maybe our declines in case rates are delayed because of a lowing preexisting covid rate?”

      That looks like a case peak to me–with 47% vaccinated, there’s only so much room for COVID to maneuver. Hospitalizations and deaths may not have quite peaked yet, though.

      I popped in here to post this:

      https://mobile.twitter.com/GovMurphy/status/1389269510612467716

      Gov. Murphy tweets:

      “NEW: We’re launching our “Shot and a Beer” program to encourage eligible New Jerseyans ages 21+ to get vaccinated. Any New Jerseyan who gets their first vaccine dose in the month of May and takes their vaccination card to a participating brewery will receive a free beer.”

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      1. bj said, “I hope so, but, there is the concern about variants.”

        So far, the variants don’t seem to stand up very well to vaccines.

        “The hot spot in WA is Ferry county, county seat Republic, where the GOP governor’s candidate hailed from (mind you I think we can make too much of hot spots in counties with 8000 people).”

        Yeah–5 whole cases a day. They also seem to have peaked out.

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    2. I hope so, but, there is the concern about variants.

      The people with better access to the information might have some knowledge about whether things are turning around.

      The hot spot in WA is Ferry county, county seat Republic, where the GOP governor’s candidate hailed from (mind you I think we can make too much of hot spots in counties with 8000 people).

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  5. If the pandemic turns out to have a long and persistent (and potentially permanent) tail I am worried how we are going to handle the uncertainty and risk as a society. The questions about fall reopening of schools is an example. We essentially had no progress until the Governor ordered reopening on mental health grounds.

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    1. bj said,

      “If the pandemic turns out to have a long and persistent (and potentially permanent) tail I am worried how we are going to handle the uncertainty and risk as a society.”

      I think we should expect to see a (moderated) winter/spring COVID surge nationally for 2021-2022. There have been some statements from the administration about things being normal by Christmas, and while I think/hope that ought to be basically true for vaccinated people, we should expect things to be worse during the holiday season (Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years) than in the summer.

      I have some qualms about summer 2021 in the sunbelt, especially in the less vaccinated states. The problem is that COVID levels have been excellent in much of the sunbelt/Southern the last month or so, so it’s hard to muster a feeling of urgency. On the other hand, there aren’t that many states with truly low vaccination numbers–it’s just a handful of states that are in the low 30s for giving first shots. Throw in some disease-acquired immunity, and even those states have to have around 50% immunity.

      “The questions about fall reopening of schools is an example. We essentially had no progress until the Governor ordered reopening on mental health grounds.”

      Oh, wow.

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  6. Our local twitter wonks (Helen Chu, Trevor Bedford) are posting that they expect endemic coronavirus: mutating virus, booster shots, indoor masking into the foreseeable future with a hope that we learn to deal with pandemics better into the future. So, I think it’s important to be thinking about summer/winter surges and learn what our limits on are how many dead we are willing to tolerate and what restrictions on behavior will be effective and followed.

    As an example, schools being closed indefinitely cannot be the plan for the future, even if case rates rise. Looking at numbers now, including in states where restrictions are being abandoned and vaccination rates slowing, I’m guessing we’ll end up with case rates resulting in deaths of 150000 or so per year (lower end) with surges in “bad seasons”. Hope I’m wrong but also not hopeful that this highly transmitted, mutable virus will be suppressed to measles levels.

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    1. bj said, “Our local twitter wonks (Helen Chu, Trevor Bedford) are posting that they expect endemic coronavirus: mutating virus, booster shots, indoor masking into the foreseeable future with a hope that we learn to deal with pandemics better into the future.”

      I can see “encouraging” indoor masking during local surges as a continuing thing…but if there are still year-round federal restrictions and mandatory masking in school at 3 or 4 cases per 100k in 2022 or 2024, Democratic politicians are going to face severe electoral consequences.

      There might (might!) be enough patience for this in a handful of deep blue urban areas, but it’s not unlimited, especially if accompanied by continuing school shenanigans. At some point, it starts looking like a cargo cult.

      Unless the COVID booster can be combined with a flu shot (which is a project they’re working on), I wouldn’t bet on substantial uptake as a yearly thing.

      “So, I think it’s important to be thinking about summer/winter surges and learn what our limits on are how many dead we are willing to tolerate and what restrictions on behavior will be effective and followed.”

      We’ve talked before about flu as a reasonable baseline.

      “As an example, schools being closed indefinitely cannot be the plan for the future, even if case rates rise.”

      Nope.

      “I’m guessing we’ll end up with case rates resulting in deaths of 150000 or so per year (lower end) with surges in “bad seasons”. Hope I’m wrong but also not hopeful that this highly transmitted, mutable virus will be suppressed to measles levels.”

      The thing is that immunity is only going to go up–adults will continue to get vaccinated (even if slowly), some people are going to get immunity from the virus itself, and there is going to be a large contingent of parents who will immediately vaccinate their 12-15 year olds as soon as the vaccine is approved and available. Under 12 is a lot stickier as a subject, though, given the ethics of mass vaccinating children who are not in great danger themselves, when there’s substantial immunity in the community, and when much more vulnerable people overseas are not vaccinated. Monica Gandhi and Vinay Prasad (both MD MPH) have said a lot about the ethics of vaccinating children in the US when adults in the developing world are in so much more danger. I need to rush off, but I think that 10% of US vaccine needs to go immediately to high-risk countries, and we should aim for 20% soon, given the need overseas and the lack of uptake here.

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  7. My premise is based on 10-15/100K. I think there will be uptake like the flu in my neck of the woods, the flu in a bad year.

    Also I expect continued mutations of the virus that mean we won’t get long term immunity — so, like the flu with cyclical flairs of bad flu years (and of course still bad flu years)

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    1. bj said, “My premise is based on 10-15/100K. I think there will be uptake like the flu in my neck of the woods, the flu in a bad year.”

      It’s at 4 (!) in California right now. I can imagine it spiking to the levels you mention during cold and flu season or in particular areas, but not as a year-round thing.

      “Also I expect continued mutations of the virus that mean we won’t get long term immunity — so, like the flu with cyclical flairs of bad flu years (and of course still bad flu years).”

      Monica Gandhi (she’s an HIV doctor and researcher) points out that there’s only so much room for viral mutation before you start losing function. She has a funny example of how if you grew a third hand on your head, you suddenly wouldn’t be able to wear a hat anymore. So mutations are a mixed bag for viruses.

      Also, the 1918 flu didn’t last forever at its peak severity. Do we have any examples of similar viruses raging on for even half a decade at higher-than-flu mortality?

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  8. Also don’t know how we’ll react if Covid starts affecting the young, like the flu, rather than the old.

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    1. bj said, “Also don’t know how we’ll react if Covid starts affecting the young, like the flu, rather than the old.”

      That would be primarily a 0-5 thing, though, probably?

      OK, I looked it up:

      https://www.statista.com/statistics/1127698/influenza-us-deaths-by-age-group/

      Here are deaths by age in the US during the 2018-2019 flu season:

      0-4 266 deaths
      5-17 211
      18-49 2,450
      50-64 5,676
      65+ 25,555

      This is a bit hard to interpret, given that these age groups are so different in size. That said:

      –0-4 is clearly more risky than 5-17.
      –While parents of little kids do worry a lot about flu, it’s a much bigger killer for 50+ than for children of any age.

      Current COVID is in the same ballpark as flu for kids, at least in terms of mortality.

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  9. Laura doesn’t actually say that the email-delinquent professor is an adjunct, just the droner, right? I’ve been meeting with students all year long, and many have stories just like Jonah’s. Note: the droning over a powerpoint happens plenty during in-person classes.

    I do sort of have some sympathy with the professors. Nobody has been trained to teach online, which is really a different activity than teaching in person. I was lucky — we had the choice to teach smaller classes in person, and my department accommodated my preference to teach wholly in person by giving postponing my large lecture course (which is required to be online) to someone who wanted to be online (and had already taught the course online). It’s sad how grateful students are to have something in person — that said, it has just been great for me and I don’t know how others have survived the year without the kind of interactions I’ve had.

    I’m very curious what we will learn about the quality of learning in college during this academic year. My guess is that it will be much, much, less than usual, but I’ve no idea whether anyone has done a rigorous study or how they’d do it.

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  10. Schools really depend on where you are—in my part of MAGA red Ohio, k-12 is fully in person with no social distance (and we get weekly letters about COVID cases in the building) and my SLAC is in person (but with social distancing). However, I have plenty of students who only want to come on Zoom! Some are good about it—others are not. There is no debate about wearing masks outside—it’s still a debate about wearing them at all! I sincerely doubt my college will require students to be vaccinated in the fall

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