2020, August 14;
How long is the granola virus going to last?” One of my kids’ friends asked that at the beginning of the pandemic. I hope he still calls it the “granola virus.” I haven’t seen him since March. That was the last real play date my 5-year-old had (if you don’t count cousins, and I don’t).
What’s going to happen to these benighted, socially deprived, semi-feral children — and their parents — if schools don’t open? And what’s going to happen to teachers and other adults if they do? So much of the research at this stage on children and the coronavirus seems contradictory.
For instance: If very young kids’ little noses are teeming with virus particles, why do they seem the least likely to infect others? It’s hard to know what to think. Another problem: What do we even mean by the word “children?” Are we talking about 6-year-old or 16-year-old? When it comes to the risks from Covid-19, there’s an enormous difference. I found the guidance from the pediatrician Naomi Bardach helpful. She argues that we should be able to make it safe for elementary school children to return to school.
But teenagers are riskier, and we should treat high schools more like offices, with many working remotely. One of our other writers, Isaac Lozano, would probably agree with that. A rising high school senior, he describes what it’s like trying to take classes online when you live in a small apartment and share a bedroom with two noisy brothers. It’s hard, he says. But it’s not as hard as seeing a loved one die.
Isaac knows: His uncle was a victim of the virus. Isaac is Latino, the son of essential workers and living in a Covid-19 hot spot in San Diego — all three factors make him vulnerable.
“I’d much rather endure the troubles of distance learning than return to campus prematurely and sacrifice my own health or that of my family,” he writes. The age of the student is one piece of the puzzle; the local infection rate is another. This morning my colleagues in the Opinion graphics department published a super-useful, county-by-county analysis of where in the United States it’s more or less safe to open schools.
There are lots of ways to look at the data but it seems that many districts in the South are rushing to open, and shouldn’t, while some places in the coastal Northeast may be being overcautious. The piece also makes the persuasive case that we should be looking at the health of a community holistically, beyond the corona virus numbers, before deciding to open a school. Maybe we need to take into account local rates of diabetes and obesity, since people with chronic conditions could be in serious danger if a school leads to an outbreak.
The graphics team gave me the numbers to help me understand the situation; another Op-Ed this morning, by Kim Brooks, gave me the words to understand my feelings about it. One big reason parents are under so much strain right now, she writes, is that “the educational, emotional and psychological needs of our children are posed in direct opposition to the containment of a public health crisis.”
Because we don’t want our kids to be lonely, sad and intellectually stunted, it feels like we’re facing an impossible choice: between being good parents and good people.