Despite multiple attempts to discuss the accurate evaluation of the risks the pandemic and our response to it present to our children and community with our Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi, I have received no response to my emails or phone calls. So, with a heavy heart, I feel compelled to share the facts with our community through your publication.
In “Charting Our Course” Dr. Luizzi begins by stating ”In all that we do and every decision we make, the health and wellness of our school community will always be our true north and unwavering guide.” (page 1). I couldn’t agree more, so let’s identify the real risks the pandemic presents to our school community’s health and wellness.
The risks of catching COVID-19 in a school following the CDC and WHO guidelines regarding ventilation and sanitary practices like mask wearing is exceptionally low. This was highlighted in an excellent article recently published by El Pais. As a former HVAC engineer and a PhD physicist who has modeled the spread of COVID I have calculated the risk to our students using the research by Professor José Luis Jiménez that underlies this article. Assuming the worst case, a teacher has COVID and does not know it, there is only a 0.8% chance that they infect a student in a given day. If we assume that the community spread is 100 per 100,000 (four times our current level) there is about a 0.05% chance that anyone catches COVID at school in a day. Using the current fatality rate this means that the chance of dying from COVID caught at school is about the same as dying from a car accident.
Now let’s talk about the risks of not conducting in person learning. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatricians) strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. They shared in their statement “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry” that “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.” Clearly the risks of models other than in-person learning are quite high.
It is hard for me to see how the decision to move to a hybrid model is best for the health and wellness of our school community. Quite the contrary: we are clearly exchanging the minuscule risk of spreading COVID in school with a large risk of isolation hindering our school community’s well being, not to mention a reduction in the quality of their learning.
So how do we reconcile these facts with the fact that COVID is spreading in our community? Applying Prof. Jiménez research to another setting, say a party with 10 people who are speaking loudly for three hours in a poorly ventilated space, we find that the chance of catching COVID is more than 90%, over 100 times that of catching it in school. Further, a recent paper in the journal Nature by Chang et. al. “Mobility network models of COVID-19 explain inequities and inform reopening” show that in-person dining is responsible for nearly 10x the spread of COVID as the next most dangerous setting. The risks of spreading COVID are much higher in social settings outside of school.
In summary: closing our schools will not slow the spread of COVID meaningfully, but it will negatively impact our students’ well-being and education. We should first try changing our personal gathering practices if we want to stop the spread of COVID. Let our kids learn: please keep them in person.
Dr. Philip C. Farese