Revolving Door Schools Are Bad News For Kids

With the huge COVID rates, I’m involved in huge debates — both in real life and on social media — about whether or not schools should open. I need to step away and get some paid work done, so I’m going to be brief here.

David Leonhardt writes in today’s New York Times:

American children are starting 2022 in crisis.

I have long been aware that the pandemic was upending children’s lives. But until I spent time pulling together data and reading reports, I did not understand just how alarming the situation had become.

He proceeds to list many studies and make points that I’ve been posting on this blog and my newsletter for months. On twitter, he posts a long thread with links to articles with more horrific information. With the support of key writers at the New York Times and health experts, like Dr. Fauci, I think people are really starting to pay attention to the serious crisis facing kids, as a result of interrupting learning.

And more studies keep coming out showing how BAD remote education was. Here’s a new one by Emily Oster.

Fingers are starting to get pointed at groups and individuals, who allowed schools and colleges to stay closed for far too long. Leonhardt wrote, “For the past two years, large parts of American society have decided harming children was an unavoidable side effect of Covid-19…but the approach has been less defensible for the past year and a half.”

Helaine Olen tweeted, “That a not small segment of the progressive left is not only unable to admit to the crisis facing America’s children, but is intent on doubling down on it is horrifying — and is no doubt contributing to Biden’s continuing polling woes.”

CNN’s role in COVID hysteria is getting noticed. I tweeted, “it’s really annoying that it takes a follow up question for CNN’s health experts to admit that kids aren’t being hospitalized BECAUSE of covid. They are going to the hospital for all the typical kid problems – broken bones, stitches — and they get a covid test at the hospital.”

Before Christmas, I got COVID either at Lincoln Center in New York City or at a local pub. None of the people demanding school closures are sitting outside those places demanding that they close. And they shouldn’t. Omicron is not getting people super sick; I wasn’t super sick. I keep hearing stories from friends with unvaccinated young children and 90-year old parents, who didn’t even get a sniffle when they tested positive last week.

I could see a scenario where teachers are sick enough to have to stay home for a couple of days and that leads to staff shortages, which make closures unavoidable. That might happen. Hopefully, those disruptions will be as short as possible. And schools should definitely not close before that happens.

Kids cannot learn in revolving door schools. We have to do whatever we can to keep them learning and in routines and around other people. It’s essential for their development.

64 thoughts on “Revolving Door Schools Are Bad News For Kids

  1. The Oster study is a good share, addressing school closures specifically and with a good array of states where the open/non-open doesn’t obviously correlate with other big differences in the school systems (i.e. rural/urban, . . . .)

    I think the fundamental failing was considering remote education a substitute for in school learning and there were too many people (including the elearning folks, who have economic power and an agenda) who thought that cool tech was going to replace in person interactions (note that I think the same issues are going to arise with remote work — though more slowly and differently because kindergartners are clearly different from grown-ups).

    Another fundamental failure is the continuing assumption that we can make the work continually more demanding and yet not pay more for it. All of the demands we are making for better services for the children mean more work from the teachers (and their greater assumption of risk, of COVID, yes, but also the risks of children with greater needs, behaviorally non-compliant children and school shootings).


    1. Yes. As I was complaining the other night to some colleagues, it takes So F*ing Long to put a syllabus and course materials online, EVEN WHEN I’m copying an old course over to a new semester. I still have to change dates all over the place, and fix my grade center, and make sure links haven’t gone dead. The other day I spent hours on this, literally, and then I realized I had made a key mistake and will have to do it all over again. I cried and turned off the computer. And I *like* ed tech in general. I’m the person my colleagues come to asking for help with the tech stuff.

      I used to get paid for developing an online course because of the amount of labor. Now, I just have to do 4 a semester without any extra pay.


      1. Care emoji to you Wendy — I am entirely on the receiving end of services and am trying to apply a lot of grace to those providing them, from my younger’s school, elder’s college, the UW testing lab that has converted to doing PCR Covid tests, the drugstores I’m buying rapid tests from, the airlines cancelling flights, our missed garbage pickups, . . . .

        This grace shouldn’t mean giving up on services and I am trying to figure out how to simultaneously advocate for the services.


      2. This requirement to keep work updated online was one of the cracks in the union negotiation earlier in the year in our school district– the admin asked teachers (all of them, including the younger grades) to have class materials up to date on daily basis so that students/families could use the website if they had to miss days of school. The teachers pointed out the workload involved. You’re adding additional insight pointing out the workload even when the same materials/curriculum is being updated for a new year, that it is a significant administrative burden, even for tech savvy teachers, which all of them are not.


      3. The university is asking us to input attendance info every day as part of a retention/mental health effort during the pandemic, and even that I just can’t do. i was doing it once a week. And there are So. Many. Emails.
        We are going remote for the first week, and all unvaxed students and staff will be tested. Personally, I can’t believe they all aren’t vaxed, but obviously that ship has sailed…


  2. “That might happen. Hopefully, those disruptions will be as short as possible. And schools should definitely not close before that happens. ”

    I do agree that we need to see the need now and not close schools preemptively. Our district offered testing for everyone yesterday (ran out of capacity) & has opened this morning (but with, apparently, broken pipes that have closed the lowest level of the school after our snow storm and unexpectedly freezing temperatures).

    I felt differently about premptive closure in March 2020 when I thought it was necessary. Then, we had little capacity to test, didn’t now how the virus would impact children, and didn’t know how quickly it would spread; we didn’t have masks, vaccines, or ventilation. But, we shouldn’t have closed without requiring a continuing need to extend the closures, rather than making closures a default.


  3. “Before Christmas, I got COVID either at Lincoln Center in New York City or at a local pub. None of the people demanding school closures are sitting outside those places demanding that they close.”

    Of course they should close. I have always thought that, and I’ve always thought you were insane for going to restaurants as often as you have, much less Lincoln Center. But I’m not sitting outside anywhere protesting, especially not in January. 🙂

    “Leonhardt wrote, “For the past two years, large parts of American society have decided harming children was an unavoidable side effect of Covid-19…but the approach has been less defensible for the past year and a half.””

    I’m not saying children aren’t being harmed, but I don’t think this is an either-or situation. We are all under stress. Health care workers are under a great deal of stress. My sister-the-nurse has horror stories. My TikTok is filled with tired, sad, scared health care workers explaining how bad it is in the hospitals. They’re not putting people on vents as often as they did pre-vaccines, but it’s still horrible. As one HCW said, Covid is not just a respiratory disease; it’s also a vascular disease, and it also seems to worsen pre-existing conditions. That scares the hell out of me.

    And teachers and other school workers are also important. They shouldn’t be treated like it doesn’t matter if they get sick. My sister was teaching with cancer for a few years before she had to go on disability. The main issue is that we as a society refuse to see this as a whole-society problem, and we think each individual can act in their own individual way and assess their own risks like a good rugged, independent, individualist American.

    What happens if the teachers quit in the Great Resignation? Who’s going to fill in for them? One of my former students is working as a para in a NJ school, When I talked to her last month, before Omicron, she said that every day, there were announcements asking for any teachers who could to combine with another class to cover missing teachers. Why is that better for kids than temporary remote education?

    FTR, our district’s kids are in school, as are those in a neighboring district (as per a friend who lives there). My sister-in-Rockland’s kids are home till tomorrow because they were Covid positive and their quarantine isn’t over till then. But their schools are open. My BIL is at work teaching. From my perspective, schools are open as much as they can be.


    1. Honestly, I love life and am pleased that I never stayed at home, when things opened up again. And I don’t care that I got Covid. In fact, I’m happy that I got it, got over it, and now have immunity. The ballet was awesome. I am so glad that I went. I know that families with sensitive members have to be careful, and I respect those decisions. Our situation is different, so our choices are different.


      1. I guess I have a kind of inverse (converse?) way of looking at things. I decided a long time ago that I was never going to regret *not* doing something. There is always something else cool to do. I think some of that comes from growing up somewhat poor among people more well-off. What I am doing now for fun is helping someone figure out why she grew up thinking she was Mexican, Japanese and Irish, but her DNA test came back 25% European Jewish. (Answer: mystery grandfather.) Also of interest: one of her DNA matches is a college friend of mine. Small world.

        Sister-the-nurse says “natural” immunity only lasts about 3 months, fwiw. Sister-in-Rockland and I immediately started thinking up fun plans between now and April 1. She decided to go to Lake George in February. I’m still thinking. I was supposed to go to Zurich for a conference in March, but that got switched to virtual. 😦


    2. Wendy said “Of course they should close. I have always thought that, and I’ve always thought you were insane for going to restaurants as often as you have, much less Lincoln Center. But I’m not sitting outside anywhere protesting, especially not in January.”

      There really isn’t any point in closing them. Coming from the country with probably the most effective lockdown in the Western world (we actually eliminated Covid at one state) and observing the country next door with probably one of the harshest lockdowns (Melbourne in Australia – went on for the longest).

      We know that Lockdowns just don’t work with Delta – let alone with Omicron. It’s too transmissible, and there are too many people who are either passive or active evaders of the ‘rules’.

      It seems highly unlikely that NZ will have another lockdown (which would almost certainly be in my hometown of Auckland) – people aren’t willing to have the massive disruption to their lives for no purpose. In a democracy (unlike, say China, which has the military enforcing strict lockdowns) – you need the consent of the population for these measures – and you’ll only get that if people see that it works.

      Those who have heightened concerns/risk are already making their own choices (not to go to the museum or theatre or pub – no matter the level of vaccination/masking), and are choosing to home-school their children, rather than send them to school (where there will certainly be *some* other children who are unvaccinated).

      Given that it seems inevitable that we’ll have waves of Covid variants for the next few years – and that vaccination and/or immunity offers only partial protection (and possibly only for a relatively short time – much like the ‘flu vaccine) – we have to find some way to live with this situation. And shutting down our lives every few months isn’t a viable option.


    3. I also think there are big differences in the way that we personally assess risks. In a pandemic (or for global climate change) society won’t be able to address the problems if we let everyone use their own assessment of their personal (which might be wrong, but, let’s assume that it isn’t) to make decisions that will affect everyone. That’s a given. But, knowing that cooperative action is necessary still means that in non-authoritarian society we need to convince people — there is no way to force each person to do what is best (even if we knew what that was).

      Two years into the pandemic I don’t think we can tell all people to just not regret *not* doing something (because, they can see the ballet next year? or go to school next year? or just learn remotely?). And, the same goes for risk assessment; we can’t tell people who are comfortable with more risk to only do the things that the most risk averse are comfortable with.


  4. And, the Oster working paper is available to read. I like very much that it parses the school closure loading of the pandemic effect in individual states but the most noticeable effect is that of the pandemic itself. Learning as measured by testing was significantly affected by the pandemic regardless of how much in person learning was offered.

    As Wendy says above, everyone (well almost everyone — not seeing any effect on billionaires) has been affected. Many who provide services to others in person are experiencing significant stress and trauma. Some managing the pandemic and pandemic related planning are experiencing stress signfiant enough to impact their lives, too. Examples: college presidents/superintendents/heads of school resigning and a friend, a radiologist, saying how hard it is to screen chest x-rays after chest x-ray showing evidence of long term covid damage. Her “normal” practice would have included some traumatic images but at the height of the winter wave, too many were painful to her.


  5. “They are going to the hospital for all the typical kid problems – broken bones, stitches — and they get a covid test at the hospital.”

    As I commented on your tweet, it is almost certainly not the case that the incidental discovery of covid is because of broken bones/stitches. Most likely are conditions that would result in admission and hospitalization — severe allergic reactions, epilepsy, gastrointestinal dysfunction, . . . .

    In a study done in July/August (before omicron), 78% of children in the hospital with COVID were there because of COVID:

    “Kline co-authored a study, published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that analyzed 915 Covid cases among children and teenagers hospitalized at six medical centers in July and August.

    More than three-quarters — 78 percent — were hospitalized because of complications of Covid-19. About half needed help breathing, and nearly a third were placed in intensive care.”

    Omicron might be different — with more incidental cases, but rhetoric simply dismissing the increase should be more guarded (though I oppose scaremongering, too). Also, most of the hospitalization in July/August were unvaccinated children.


  6. It makes no sense to have schools open for the next few weeks in states where the positivity rate is sky high, unless you think school should be hosting the equivalent of “chicken pox parties.” It can only last a few days, at most, before schools are unable to function entirely because of absent faculty and staff. Absent students are a problem, too, because material will have to be retaught when the students return. Requiring teachers to return in the midst of this seems punitive, as if it is being done to express anger and hostility toward teachers and school, more than anything else. After two days at my husband’s school, huge numbers of students already have positive results, and everyone has been sent home early today. (For the first time. He has been teaching in person since September 2020. That’s right, for the past year and a half). What was that for? Do you think the students learned anything in a day and a half? Was anything gained? Meanwhile the hospitals are overrun, and so if a teacher does get a serious case–through no fault of their own–they might not receive the best care. Hospitals and medical professionals are asking for a breather–shouldn’t we at least listen to them?

    Most schools have been in person for a long time, many since fall 2020. New York City, and other coastal elite cities and their suburbs, are outliers. Those school districts handled things poorly, but that shouldn’t be a reason to hurt teachers who have been working to the bone under impossible conditions despite risk to themselves for the past year and a half. My husband easily could have died if he caught Covid-19 in the fall of 2020, which would have devastated our children, who matter too. (1.5 million children have lost a caregiver in this pandemic. I wonder how well they’re learning, how big of a chance they have of making it to college, or paying for when they get there?) Thankfully he made it to vaccines, but our state took a long time prioritizing teachers, so he started coaching tennis in early spring 2021–indoors–prior to being vaccinated. It took a call to every patient’s advocate at every local hospital and every one of my local elected officials to get him that shot. Hospital administrators who never saw a patient got the shots long before he did.

    It should be acknowledged that many teachers in this country have taught in person throughout and done everything they could to make their teaching excellent. The vast majority of white collar workers in office buildings were protected from Covid-19 in a way teachers could only dream about. Many (my own brother and sister among them) are still working from home, and have no due date on their return! And yet teachers are the bad guys of the pandemic.


    1. “It makes no sense to have schools open for the next few weeks in states where the positivity rate is sky high, unless you think school should be hosting the equivalent of “chicken pox parties.” It can only last a few days, at most, before schools are unable to function entirely because of absent faculty and staff. Absent students are a problem, too, because material will have to be retaught when the students return.”

      I agree with this but am not confident that our predictions about illness are sufficiently reliable to close preemptively.

      “Requiring teachers to return in the midst of this seems punitive, as if it is being done to express anger and hostility toward teachers and school, more than anything else.”

      I get this concern — have seen enough negativity about teachers online that I understand teachers thinking the plan is purposefully punitive (and, I think, not an entirely irrelevant concern on the part of teachers, that punishment is part of the point).

      But, I think teachers in some major districts came off as not willing to be considered essential workers (which, I think, we should all recognize in retrospect, they are). Teacher’s unions should and did advocate for protections they absolutely deserve, but, there as too much time spent treating the schools as toxic environments when the evidence suggested they weren’t. That conflict has left dysfunctional behavior on the part of others as well as a concern that any return to remote learning will leave us stuck where we were at this time last year.


    2. If I were writing contracts into the future taking account of pandemics, I would not allow remote instruction to replace in person instruction except for limited days and would negotiate automatic lengthening of the school year to replace the lost days due to any school closures (weather, building, school shooting — or at least the threat of school shooting, . . . ). Maybe exceptions could be made for certain courses that are shown to be effectively taught on line in a particular school building (in high school, maybe?). Teachers should be compensated for these modifications to the contract, and, yes, the planning head is needed (not just changing the demands). We probably also need to move to funding for reliable substitutes, including ones who are available full time, and potentially already in buildings. Historically, classroom teachers were pretty much left on their own to handle sick days (i.e. finding their own substitutes).

      Also, decisions about staffing/student absences should be made in the building, not district wide.


      1. “We probably also need to move to funding for reliable substitutes, including ones who are available full time, and potentially already in buildings.”

        I don’t know if it’s common elsewhere, but on Long Island they hire permanent subs who are available full-time and are in the building every day. My sister was doing that when she was diagnosed with cancer. It’s also seen as a stepping stone to a full-time position in the school.


      2. They had to do that here, because nobody was willing to work for so little money and have no guarantee for work. The school hates it, because they have to pay them benefits, too.

        I am really pessimistic about where things are going, at least with schools. I’m not hearing any good news locally or in the bigger world. Maybe I need to walk away from the news and social media.


      3. “The school hates it, because they have to pay them benefits, too. ”

        I’m not sure what this means. The school district is trying to provide a service at a cost that taxpayers are willing to pay. When we say this about Amazon, we presume that they hate it because by saving money on labor they can make more profits and increase shareholder value. What do the schools get out of saving money? presumably spending it on other school things. Maybe they hate it because they could otherwise build bleachers in the stadium?


      4. I too am pessimistic and my pessimism comes from believing that as a society we aren’t willing to pay the people who provide the things we say we want and instead think that extracting extra labor, efficiency, cutting waste, getting people to work “smarter” will give us the results we want. The education we want, including educating the most vulnerable children, will cost more, and their parents can’t afford to pay for it.

        (I see the same money for long term care, adult disability services, nursing home care, and health care)


      5. ““The school hates it, because they have to pay them benefits, too. ”

        I’m not sure what this means. The school district is trying to provide a service at a cost that taxpayers are willing to pay.”

        Exactly. The school has a fixed budget that *taxpayers* must approve yearly. This is not the SCHOOL hating it. Try going to a town meeting in my area of SEMA and asking for money for permanent subs. We can’t even get 1 art teacher per elementary school (there is one who splits time between both schools).

        And yes, the taxpayers in my town approved new athletic fields but refused to allocate money for a new library. Just to give you an idea of what our priorities are.


      6. I have several friends who work as substitute teachers who basically have full time jobs this year (which for them is good as they are artists/ theater workers).

        My wife’s school is having a terrible time with staffing as they serve a poorer population of kids who have a lot of needs and they just recently had a shooting. They had funding for a mental health program but that has been put on hold as the staff for that is working in classrooms subbing. (My wife is funded differently and so is not able to sub, for which she is grateful.) A lot of families are keeping their kids home because they live in close quarters with elderly family members – many families live in one bedroom apartments. Teachers are trying to figure out how to help kids who aren’t coming in by informally doing remote instruction.

        Meanwhile in Cleveland my sister said the cardiology office where she works as an NP had to completely close for a few days for the first time ever because so many staff were sick with Covid, including her.


  7. My husband’s elite private school doesn’t have substitutes. At all. If someone is out, their colleagues have to cover their classes. That of course means nobody wants to be out, as nobody wants to burden their colleagues.


    1. The private school our kids went to K-8 had a long term permanent substitute and now has assistant teachers in K-2 who can take over. The assistant teachers were planned before the pandemic but have been enormously useful through the pandemic.


    2. Laura said: “I am really pessimistic about where things are going, at least with schools. I’m not hearing any good news locally or in the bigger world. Maybe I need to walk away from the news and social media. ”

      I know this is anecdata. But in my extended friendship group (friends of friends of friends) in Auckland, I know of 3 teen suicides over the last 6 months.
      A friend and I were commenting that when you take everything that makes their life worthwhile (social contact, sports, music, drama, etc.) away from teens, and shut them in front of a remote teaching operation that (for a large percentage of them) was a very poor learning environment – you have to expect that you’re going to get depression and anxiety and a whole range of other behaviours.

      And, because of the pandemic AND the subsequent exponential increase in demand, it is almost impossible to get an appointment with a Psychiatrist (let alone one specializing in teens).

      This is another problem which is not going to go away….


  8. We’re in a partial lockdown, including virtual school in Ontario, so I’m actually just back from kicking off our small “virtual school camp” where my team supervises kids and gives them active breaks in our martial arts classroom. We also had to move all our other instruction online.

    It’s a very weird place to have spent months re-realizing how important fitness and after school care and in-person learning are for our students’ physical and mental wellbeing and then to be in a position again where our financial future is not at all secure. The only good news is that I’m more confident that eventually things will come back.

    Our shutdown is partly motivated by health care overload. Ontario is uniquely bad in that we run our ICU and hospital beds close to capacity in the good times. And because government is the single payer for health care, they also bear the costs of their choices. Unfortunately this particular wave our government waffled, first ignoring the situation mostly and then slamming down schools and businesses like mine.

    Also, everyone is sick. Our libraries are only half open, some hospitals had to divert patients, and in my tiny business we had over 1/3 of our staff off either with Covid or isolating – most of whom had a break so they didn’t get it with us, at least. I’m betting family gatherings. I had a staff member who was doing a rapid test at home during our Zoom planning call yesterday and we got to watch it turn positive live.

    They’re all doing ok (vaccinated) and this wave will pass but we’ve never, ever, ever had staffing issues anything close to this, even when a kid threw up in a classroom, the bathroom, and the lobby, splashing a staff member with norovirus a couple of years ago.

    “Novel” is my new scare word for all disease.


  9. I do really love the perspectives from Ontario and New Zealand. I’m hearing about the Ontario close downs (not lock downs, right?). And, though New Zealand might not be able to shut down the virus ultimately for the lack of authoritarianism (like in China) I think the two year attempt to limit the virus probably saved 1000s of lives, flattening hospital curves, allowing deployment of a vaccine and the development of treatments.

    Our schools opened yesterday and the newspaper reports a 4% positivity rate from the testing of 14,000 people at the popup testing on Monday (using rapid tests). Kiddo was told by teachers that teacher thought SPS would close individual schools if staffing problems arose, rather than shutting down the system.

    Leana Wen is doubling down on harm reduction and the omicron virus being less harmful (for non old people & vaccinated people) and I am willing to move forward with this evaluation until we see evidence otherwise.


    1. The formal Ontario is name is “Modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen” so yeah, close down I guess. This is a province where we had 5 stages – green, yellow, orange, red, and the worst was grey and wasn’t even on the first chart (we hit it in a couple months) and then 3 Steps, so who knows. You can go to the mall (25% capacity) and get your hair cut (50% capacity), no indoor dining, gyms/fitness/museums/theatres closed, schools virtual.


    2. NZ is in a pretty weird space right now. Hearing about Omicron, and have Om cases in quarantine at the border in increasing numbers, but no active cases in the community (yet).
      We do, however, still have Delta rumbling away – though at decreasing numbers , which must be the effect of vaccinations – since the numbers have reduced substantially since we moved *out* of lockdown.

      Amusingly, the most recent uptick in cases – was at a local brothel (10+ people infected – and, one assumes, now their families). All people there at the relevant times are required to self-isolate for 10 days – just imagine explaining that one to your boss!


      1. So is NZ open except for border quarantine now? I saw this Guardian article about NZ, but it was from Dec 23, so not reflective of potential omicron spread.

        One of the benefits of the suppression of the virus in NZ (really, no community cases now?) is the ability to actually track the virus including whether there is community spread.

        Is NZ using “asymptomatic” testing, meaning testing people in the country who aren’t sick for access to schools/etc.?


      2. BJ said: “So is NZ open except for border quarantine now?”

        Not quite. We are in the ‘orange’ section of our traffic light warning system.
        Vaccine passports are required for lots of things (hairdresser, bars, library, swimming pools, church services, funerals, etc.), and there are some gathering size limits (in bars or restaurants, for example).
        Masking is required at most indoor venues (except for actually eating) – even those (like supermarkets) which don’t mandate vaccine passes.

        Lots of people are working from home (win/win – since no commute in hot weather and more time saved is a double bonus on top of not catching Covid).

        We still have low levels of Delta rumbling away in the community – around 50 or so cases per day – we were up to 200/day at the max of the outbreak. But case numbers have come down since the restrictions were loosened.
        [When NZ gives up on elimination, you pretty much know that it’s impossible]

        Testing is only symptomatic or close contact (you’ve been in close contact with someone who has now tested positive). Cities also do wastewater testing, to pick up on any undetected community spread.

        Contact tracing (the gold standard of the ring-fence an outbreak strategy) pretty much fell over when we had 200+ daily cases – it simply wasn’t scalable. And I think that when Omicron gets here, with the increased infection rate, it will be pretty useless.

        It’s our long summer break ATM so no schools. But all teachers (and all other adult support staff) in schools must be fully vaccinated as at 1/1/22.
        Students (5-12) will have had access to the first dose from this week – but I’m honestly not anticipating a very high uptake: parents look at the low risk profile of this group and the relatively unknown vaccination risks in children, and decide to wait….
        There will be no vaccine mandate for children or teens to attend school (though they won’t be able to participate in extra-curricular activities)

        Of course, all this will change once Omicron gets into the community. We have increasing numbers in Quarantine at the border, and realistically, it’s only a matter of time. We still don’t know how Delta spread from the Quarantine to the community (they know which person in Q, and the 2-3 people who were next in the infection chain, but no actual mechanism for them getting infected)


    3. BJ said “And, though New Zealand might not be able to shut down the virus ultimately for the lack of authoritarianism (like in China) I think the two year attempt to limit the virus probably saved 1000s of lives, flattening hospital curves, allowing deployment of a vaccine and the development of treatments.”

      I think almost everyone in NZ would agree that the initial lockdown (2020) gave us the breathing space to get the mass vaccination underway – and certainly saved lives (as commented above, absent a time machine and alternative history, we’ll never exactly know how many).

      However, now that over 90% of the 12+ population is vaccinated, 5-12 vaccines are available to those who want them, and boosters to everyone who is 4 months+ since their last jab – we need to have a solution *other* than closed borders and lockdowns.

      The govt is utterly terrified, that with the infection rate of Omicron, and the fact that high risk people have not already been killed off by other Covid variants, and our woefully underfunded/under-resourced hospital system — once Omicron is loose, it will utterly overwhelm the hospital system and result in significant death rate. They’re hoping that they can continue to delay as long as possible – but the issues will still be there whether it gets loose in NZ next month, or in 6 months time. There is no ‘win’ here.


      1. I think there is a good argument that holding it at bay until Paxlovid is widely available is in fact going to mean the issues will be different and less dire. In the US we have a lumbering federal health bureaucracy which feels redeemed because they got hydroxychloroquine right and which is now showing no slightest urgency to deal with the much better researched fluvoxamine, which could do a lot of what Paxlovid will do, maybe.


      2. Delay is a positive in this context. For example, in six months, Paxlovid might be generally available. The costs of delay are relevant, and one can balance potential lives saved from COVID against other costs (which include mental health, other health care, economic and political disruption, especially in the context of what might well be a virus that causes less severe disease).

        But, places are very different from each other and balancing costs is difficult and always an unknowable.

        I found this personal story of from someone in the US visiting family in Hong Kong, with its details of a 21 day quarantine enforced by law and the freedom that followed (but omicron arrives anyway, though steps are still taken to shut it down again) fascinating.

        l Saw Firsthand What It Takes to Keep COVID Out of Hong Kong. It Felt Like a Different Planet

        ” For all the caution I had taken to reduce exposure in the interminable months since March 2020, that all felt like child’s play compared with the Compulsory Quarantine Order in my hand, which reminded me that I, Chen Caroline Yi Ling, was required, with immediate effect, to be quarantined in my hotel room at the Crowne Plaza as ordered by Yau Yuet-ming Lannon, an authorized officer of the Regulation, until Dec. 20, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. I flipped through the booklet of instructions for the three weeks of hotel quarantine. “


      3. Oops, didn’t see the previous post (but, also, delay provided the opportunity to get vaccines as well and build infrastructure on testing and tracing). Delay this month? next month? into the summer? and the types of lockdowns (schools, etc.) matter. I don’t know how life feels in New Zealand and would love a personal account of a “day in the life”. As this blog shows, American “day in the life” looks very different for different people and different regions.


      4. Dave & bj said “I think there is a good argument that holding it at bay until Paxlovid is widely available ”

        I agree, *if* it is widely available to the world outside the US (there were issues with vaccine supply, here). Our health bureaucracy is pretty lumbering too (including the scandal that when Pfizer wanted to talk to our Minister of Health about early supply of the vaccine in 2020, he was ‘unavailable’ for 6 weeks!). And Pharmac (funds all approved drugs for patients in NZ), is notoriously unwilling to look at off-brand use of existing drugs for a different condition – there are very significant hoops to jump through)

        However, my biggest concern is that in 6 months time we will be in the middle of winter here, which is a *much* worse time to have a Covid infection surge (our hospitals are regularly full and over-full with flu cases/complications, let alone Covid).

        With Omicron, it does seem as though once it’s in the community it’s Katy-bar-the-door – the spread is uncontrollable. Which may make all of this academic – I will get through our quarantine at some point….


      5. BJ said “I found this personal story of from someone in the US visiting family in Hong Kong, with its details of a 21 day quarantine enforced by law and the freedom that followed ”

        Interesting, there are similarities with the quarantine requirements in NZ:
        * Get off the plane & present all of your documentation (including evidence of testing 72 hours before departure & quarantine voucher)
        * Get through customs & baggage collection – socially distanced, marked lines, etc. (all of the shopping outlets are closed)
        * Assemble and wait for your transport (bus to a quarantine ‘managed isolation’ hotel). Quarantine is by cohort, so everyone on your plane will be going to the same hotel (or possibly 2 hotels) – and will be quarantining on the same floors. If you are unlucky, this may mean a 3-hour bus trip to Rotorua…
        You are supposed to remain masked at all times (though I suspect people don’t)
        * Check in at the hotel – this may mean a wait of up to an hour as everyone is processed.
        * Wait in your room for a visit from the quarantine nurse to administer your first nasal swab test. All are tested, including children. This may not happen until the next day.
        * Food is delivered (if you’re lucky, it’s excellent; if you’re unlucky in your hotel, it’s dire). No deliveries permitted.
        * You can sign up for a once-a-day exercise break. Don’t get too excited. The numbers are strictly limited, and the desirable times book out quickly. If you are lucky, this is a nice walk in Hagley Park in Christchurch, if you’re unlucky (most of the hotels), it’s a walk around a paved car park. All walking is strictly socially distanced, and you may only walk in one direction. You will be supervised by security guards, and any breach of the rules will result in no further exercise privileges. In most facilities – this is also the smoking area (no smoking in hotel rooms)
        * You will be tested on day 3, 5 and 9, during your 10-day stay.
        * You may not leave the quarantine hotel until you have your final negative result.
        * If you test positive for Covid at any point – you will be transferred to a Quarantine facility – where you will have additional health monitoring.

        All of this is relatively possible for singles and couples, but is *really* challenging for families with small children.

        And, despite all the precautions, we are seeing infection within the managed isolation facilities. A hotel, with recirculating air-conditioning, is not the ideal environment for preventing transmission of an airborne virus.


  10. The chief medical officer of a hospital in our region (rural midwest) reports a 7-day symptomatic positivity rate of 40%, and volumes for both emergency departments and convenient cares higher than any in the pandemic. Vaccination rates in my county are still below 50%. A beloved coach in town (around 40, with young kids) just died. The Gofundme page, the prayers pages, etc. are scrupulously avoiding mentioning that it was Covid. One asked for “privacy.” So that’s what it’s like out here.


    1. Oh, that sucks. Just had coffee with a friend who leans to the right. She was vaccinated and got covid around the same time as I did. She’s pissed. She’s convinced that the vaccinations were a waste of time and that everyone is lying to her. I said that she might have gotten sicker without the shot, and she said she doesn’t believe it.


      1. I’ve been thinking about these conversations for years and have no easy solutions. We can’t say she is wrong: the effectiveness of vaccines is shown only statistically, on average across a population. Maybe she would have been just a fine without the vaccine, and with the omicron variant, the prevention of infection is greatly reduced.

        So how does one convince individuals of the statistical benefit to the population? That’s a real question for your friend. Are there other choices she makes because people tell her they are statistically better for her? (say, eating leafy vegetables to prevent colon cancer or getting mammograms?).


      2. I’m in an odd space – I may have / probably have had it. That is, my wife has tested positive, we have been isolating at home, this followed a phone call from the woman who cleans our house once a week that she had tested positive, and I had a sore throat for two days – mild one day, un-ignorable but not terrible the next. Now I feel just fine. My doctor said – very plausible that that was it, for me. And I am fat and over seventy. I am both-shots-and-boosted. So if I did have it, I am a poster child for vaccines.


      3. I shouldn’t say “statistical benefit to the population”, because the benefit is to everyone, not just the population, but can only be measured over the population. That statement is less true for vaccines against diseases we have nearly eliminated (like polio), where an individual in the US is unlikely to encounter the virus, because of widespread immunity through vaccination. But, in the middle of a pandemic, the benefit the vaccine confers is to the individual as well as the population (statistically).


  11. Someone left a comment about schools not wanting to pay for benefits for substitutes. I can’t find it. So, let me explain here at the end. The facts:

    1. Public school administrators and the Board of Education are under ENORMOUS pressure to keep the costs of schools low, because nobody wants to pay more taxes. Most people do not have children, so they don’t want to pay for schools. The majority of local taxes goes to schools, and that pisses off the residents who do not have kids in schools.

    2. Most school budgets have very, very little fat in them. 75 percent of a budget goes towards salary. and benefits.

    3. And residents want to see bang for their buck in the form of nice football fields and winning basketball teams. Sadly, most parents care more about basketball than math scores, too.

    4. Therefore, there is a strong motivation to keep the budgets low by controlling personnel costs. They have done that first by cutting back on school personnel that are not protected by the teachers’ unions, including special ed aides and substitute teachers. They have gone from full time employees w/benefits to part time, contingent staff. It’s a sucky job.

    5. They are continuing to do that by outsourcing employment to find people from outside agencies. Our high school pyschiatrist is one of those temporary agency hires. In the midst of this crisis. Disgusting.

    6. The same forces that have caused colleges to hire adjuncts is happening in K-12, too.

    7. That’s what I mean when I said that public education doesn’t want to give substitutes benefits. Make sense?


    1. I think we agree, but it all starts with the community’s unwillingness to pay for the service. There was an interesting article (in the Upshot at the New York Times) about the child credit: “Why Isn’t Biden’s Expanded Child Tax Credit More Popular?”

      Several ideas, but a significant one was that older people don’t support it, and American’s attachment to who “deserves” benefits, but also, that there’s a pretty good correlation between how long you receive the benefit in a lifetime and the popularity of a benefit.

      So, how do we change that list of consequences that builds from taxpayers unwillingness to support the schools and children? Republicans seem to be trending towards the idea of disassembling public schools and returning the money to parents. I’m thinking that would put even more downward pressure on the amount taxpayers would pay towards children (as with the child credit), because the cite to “good public schools” increasing property values would disappear.


      1. Our state also pools funds, though at a level that doesn’t support what parents who want “college prep” and extracurriculars (theater, arts, music) want. And also doesn’t leave enough to support the wrap around/services more vulnerable children need.


    2. Yes, my wife has worked several jobs in school mental health via contracting/ temp agencies. She started her current job that way and was ultimately hired by the school district, but apparently that is not usual.


    3. Tax bills arrived in mailboxes in our town today, and that set off the predictable ranting on the town FB group about all our taxes being wasted on things like schools and such. Meanwhile, the RWNJs in town are starting to circle around the school committee, filing complaints about the current SC members (4 of 5 of whom are women) and trying to gin up anti-CRT sentiment on the flimsiest of grounds.


  12. I don’t know anyone who was reluctant to get vaccinated, even my SIL, who flirted with delaying my nieces and nephews around the time RFK had that big piece in Salon or the Atlantic in the late noughts. If I did, though, I’d point them to reddit–specifically to the Herman Cain award subreddit, as well the nursing ones. I was profoundly influenced early in 2020 by reports of doctors about how horrifying this disease is, the suffering it can cause. It has not helped that the suffering is hidden away behind closed doors. If you read the nursing subreddit today there are several heartrending posts about unvaxxed patients recently dying in the most horrific way possible, and the agony of their families. A unimaginable tragedy, a sort of mass suicide, has been taking place right before us for the last six months. Hundreds of thousands have willingly gone to their deaths because of political propaganda. How can we not all be continuously stunned by this fact? I don’t have it in me to feel angry, because if you read the subreddits you see how benighted those dying were. It’s the purveyors of disinformation I’m after.


    1. Lisasg2 said “I don’t know anyone who was reluctant to get vaccinated,”

      I know several (and this is in NZ where we have a 90%+ vaccination rate for over 12).

      For most it’s a combination of fear, mistrust, and lack of scientific knowledge, making them vulnerable to pseudo-science.
      [every time someone says to me ‘I need to do more research’, I want to say to them, ‘So you’re doing a biosciences degree with a speciality in epidemiology, then?’]

      One just profoundly hates being told what to do by the Government (and is bitterly angry at the changed message from ‘vaccines are optional’ to the ‘vaccine is mandated if you want to participate in society’ – he feels lied to.).

      None of them are bad people.

      I truly don’t feel that the heart-rending stories will convince them. They just believe that ‘it can’t happen to me’ (until it’s too late, and it has).

      Getting to 90% in NZ has required quite a bit of societal force: you can’t keep your job (if you work in certain fields), if you’re not vaccinated; you can’t run a hospitality business if you don’t insist on vaccine passes for entry; you can’t visit public amenities (libraries, museums, etc.) if you’re not vaccinated, etc.
      Observationally, it’s the job one that’s had the most impact. When it comes to sticking to your principles or losing your pay cheque, most people opt for the money.

      And, to link all this back to education, it seems to me that we’re experiencing now the outcome of decades of poor quality science education – at the primary and high-school levels (setting aside tertiary). When the majority of high-school kids don’t understand the difference between a virus and a bacterium, or don’t understand how a vaccine actually works in the body, or can’t do basic statistical analysis – how can we expect that, 10-years-later, they will actually be able to de-bunk the misinformation spread by the purveyors of pseudo-science.

      And, when you combine this with decades of mistrust of authority figures (both deserved and otherwise) – why should those 20 or 30 somethings suddenly trust that the State will get it right (when they’re told so often that the State got it wrong, or was corrupt, etc.)


  13. Our district did, unsurprisingly, go back remotely this week. Cases in our town are at 1700 per 100K, worse in much of metro Atlanta.

    However, they have indicated that the plan for next week is to reopen for universal f2f. They will consider closing some schools on a case by case basis where more than 1-2% of the student body is sick. Staff absences are running about 10% (due to illnesses or their own kids being remote/sick), so they have decided to fill in staff shortages by using parent volunteers and warehousing kids for large study halls in the gym. Nobody is bothering to pretend that this is about education or anything else except babysitting — my kids sure as hell aren’t going to learn AP Bio in the gym. There’s no plan for how to manage absences and catch-ups for the kids who are sick or who have to quarantine.

    Nobody wants to do the rest of the semester remotely. But this chaos is not going to provide anyone with a better educational experience, and it’s going to prolong the situation.


    1. It might be okay educationally, but remote wouldn’t be much better. And at school, at least their mental health will be better when they are around other kids.

      It’s all just so sad. If I had younger kids, I would move to a cheap town with low taxes and send my kid to a parochial school. Ian will be going to a private program soon.


      1. My kids do okay with remote learning in some ways — the 7th grader with ADHD struggles a bit more, but the 9th graders, one of whom also has big-time ADHD, like it aside from the social issues. They get more out of their free time at lunch, they can do stuff like play guitar during short breaks, and they have more bite-size downtimes. My younger son loves that he can sprawl and make noises and fidget, without causing distractions for others.

        Needless to say, the all-day gym is the 9th circle of hell for him (and thus everyone around him), and I am really worried about parent volunteers who don’t have the training to deal with ADHD/spectrum kids and treat them like behavioral issues.

        Again, it’s not how I want them to finish the semester, but fortunately I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about. I think this will begin to calm down in ~two weeks, so it’s all a question of what causes the least chaos in the interim.


    2. Really all of those things depend on the kid (babysitting in a gym v online instruction, mental health with family v mental health with other teens at school). Don’t know which is better on average access the population and we are doing a new experiment if we are doing school without teachers.

      Kiddo’s school has been open for 3 days with all his teachers there, so as good as we can expect.

      Private K-8 has multiple teachers out and has closed its after school program for covid protocol and parents aren’t allowed at school.

      Glad to hear you’ve found a good place for Ian.


  14. All-day gym: The kids get warehoused in the gym — it’s an open study hall where they send whatever classes don’t have teachers. Seems to affect the high schoolers less, but middle school students are getting stuck in there for long stretches of time. For elementary schoolers, it’s literally all day.

    We expect 20-30% of their classes to not be covered next week, so they’ll be in the gym for several hours at least per day, sitting on bleachers doing iReady or worksheets.

    That’s what I think people don’t understand: the alternative here isn’t remote schooling or normalcy. It’s remote schooling or this absolute nonsense, because that’s the only way they can physically manage the children. Please, please tell me how that is good for anyone’s education or mental health.


    1. Honestly, I would take all day gym rather isolation in the bedroom. Kids like Ian, with no friends, sports or inclusion in any activities, do not see people or talk to anyone without school. I would happily warehouse him in a gym rather than have him home alone.


      1. They’re not allowed to talk to each other. They have to sit still and be quiet. They can’t get up and move around or play or socialize if they run out of work to do. It’s essentially in-school detention, and that is how the kids interpret it. It’s a nightmare for my ADHD kid who simply isn’t capable of quietly sitting still and being bored for hours.


    2. but we can’t build systems around the kid who is fine in remote or the kid who is better off sitting in a gymnasium

      our system announced their first closure which they are doing by building — an elementary that will be closed on monday— no remote school. they still have 3 snow days, so i think the plan is to use them for staff shortages


  15. oh, and they are opening 300 spots in a 6-12 remote program.

    they had an elementary remote, but after proposing a 6-12 remote they didn’t initially have enough people. The folks advocating for the remote are parents of children with disabilities that the parents think make them vulnerable to COVID


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