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Reopenings? February 23, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Too late for the Sunday Statement was this from Lucinda Creighton in the SBP at the weekend who has decided that the closure of schools:

[is] no way for children to live. It is a social experiment which has demonstrably failed and cannot be justified any longer. All schoolchildren and pre-schoolchildren should be back in their classrooms on March 1, without exception.

She believes that classrooms are safe – and brings in a pile of statements to support this contention. Though curiously she seems to only read the parts of the statements that support her stance and not the parts that do not or are equivocal. And that’s the problem, because read through what she offers and suddenly her certainty seems, well, misplaced.

For example:

 The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) both say that schools should be kept open, except as a last resort.

Or;

A study published by the ECDC in December showed that the re-opening of schools was not a driving factor in the so-called second wave of Covid-19. Crucially, that same study found that the negative impact of school closures outweighed any good derived from such closures.It explicitly emphasised this, stating that “the negative physical, mental health and educational impact of proactive school closures on children, as well as the economic impact on society more broadly, would likely outweigh the benefits”.

So explicitly it emphasises this, except at the part where it becomes contingent. Strangely she relates the following:

All of the international expertise points to the need to keep schools open for all of the obvious reasons – educational attainment, socialisation, mental health, preventing further socio-economic inequalities – yet our government, along with many more internationally, have chosen to follow this disastrous shutdown route.

Not just many more, almost all states have restricted education. What is difficult to understand is why she feels that her certainty trumps this actual lived decision making across numerous different societies. 

I’ve some involvement in a local educational establishment and what is clear to me is that huge efforts were made during the period from the Summer to Christmas by teachers and all other staff to maintain safety. However, and this is something she also doesn’t even begin to address, there were outbreaks and for the safety of other children in given classes various classes were sent home for periods of a week or two. This was on public health advice (elsewhere in the piece she argues that “Indeed, our own Minister for Education has stated on the record that at no time have public health officials advised her that keeping schools open is unsafe.” but I know from direct experience that public health officials have indeed advised that sending classes home due to outbreaks was essential). So the idea schools will stay open in their entirety – even in less fraught stages of the pandemic, is incorrect. 

Moreover it is not simply about schools transmitting the virus onwards and outwards as much as the broader environment impacting on schools. Just as with care homes and other care environments, the rate of transmission in the society is reflected by numbers appearing in schools. When a school is open parents congregate, students travel to and from the school, and so on. When community transmission is very high there’s an inevitable spillover from one environment into another. One need spend a minute looking at recent reports of outbreaks in schools in other jurisdictions to see that the picture painted by Creighton appears oddly partial. And as numbers ramped up in the run-up to Christmas the inevitable knock-on effects on schools was painfully obvious. Schools would have to close sooner or later because broader societal levels were too high. It’s remarkable that this reality isn’t apparent to Creighton.

I’ve skin in this game too. I share her concerns in exactly the same way about my offspring. The impact on socialisation, friendships, education and so on are significant. But there’s a broader societal good at stake here. The name of the game is about keeping numbers as low as possible in advance of vaccination. The sooner we get as many as possible to that latter the better. There’s a linked argument about the need to limit variants emerging, something that may become even more important over the coming months. None of this registers with Creighton, indeed there’s no sense of an awareness of how protean the virus actually is.

For Creighton: And yet here we are, with all of our schools closed and no coherent plan to reopen them. It is wrong, it is immoral and most of all it is without scientific basis. The government must open our schools before even more damage is inflicted on our precious children, who deserve much better than this.

Thing is though, this week came further analysis. The Guardian reported that the SAGE group in the UK which advises their government had this to offer:

Reopening classrooms is considered a top priority. Scotland and Wales have begun phased reopenings but in England all schools and pupils are set to reopen on 8 March, raising alarm among unions.

Newly released documents warn that reopening schools is likely to increase the R by 10-50%. “SPI-M-O’s [Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling] consensus view is that the opening of primary and secondary schools is likely to increase effective R by a factor of 1.1 to 1.5,” experts said in a document dated 27 January.

“An initial, limited, and cautious reopening of schools (eg primary schools only) for a time-limited period, in the absence of easing other restrictions, would allow for an assessment of the impact on community transmission.”

Another voice in the mix is Prof. Devi Sridhar,  chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, who commenting on UK reopening plans this week argues: The imminent risk now is the full return of schools on 8 March leading to uncontrolled transmission.

Jennifer Dowd, professor of demography and population health at the University of Oxford, argues: “While there have been many spirited debates about the precise role that schools play in helping Covid-19 spread, two things are indisputable. First, schools bring people into prolonged physical contact with one another, talking and breathing indoors. Second, Covid-19 is spread primarily through aerosols that spread better in unventilated environments. Pretending that the rules of physics and biology somehow don’t apply in classrooms risks undoing the difficult sacrifices of lockdown.”

Stephen Reicher of SAGE argues; But in other respects, this roadmap throws caution to the wind. Opening schools in one go hardly seems like a prudent decision. On this issue, the government could have learned from countries such as Norway, which has adopted a “traffic light” system: in areas with higher levels of infection, children return to school for some of the time to allow for social distancing, and multiple safeguards are still in place. As infections fall, these restrictions are lifted.

And from today:

According to Sage, children aged 12–16 were nearly seven times more likely than older family members to be the first infection in their household. They were also twice as likely as older people to pass the virus on to another family member after being infected. Successive studies have indicated that school closures led to big reductions in transmission and Covid mortality, and are one of the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions we have against Covid.

So reopening all at once could mean case numbers begin to rise again suddenly, and in a way that is politically difficult to reverse.

And let’s keep in mind another piece of evidence – that even under the rosiest vaccination situation there are going to be further surges (though in fairness to Creighton the ROI government has remained oddly quiet about that). Again in the UK:

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) released documents on Monday including five different models for easing lockdown in England. They suggest that under even the most optimistic scenarios modelled by teams at Imperial College London and Warwick University, tens of thousands more people can be expected to die from Covid because vaccines will not provide complete protection against the disease, and not everyone will have the jabs.

Note that all the models above retain mask wearing and other basic measures in place throughout and to the end of the period they project.

We’re not out of the woods on this one yet. Not anywhere near it.

I would like nothing better than for schools to reopen, but unlike her I think the evidence is more equivocal and it makes sense while numbers of cases are still so high to take it a little more cautiously. There’s so much more that has to fall into place, and education is only one part of that. I hope schools reopen fully by the end of March, but there’s no certainty in this. And arguing there’s an unequivocal scientific case for schools to reopen immediately does not reflect the experience of states across the world, the analysis of public health officials here (and as noted above in the UK and elsewhere). Perhaps she might in a future article parse out just why there is that gap between what she asserts and the reality on the ground.

 

Comments»

1. Klassenkampf Treehugger - February 23, 2021

Yea – I’m cringeing here in Berlin where, despite the fact that the incidence is no longer falling, and the Brexit B117 variant still has a way to go before becoming dominant, the pre-election Senate has insisted on opening kindergartens and the first three classes of junior school.

Now I could get behind that for all the reasons above *if transmission in workplaces were reduced by forcing employers the facilate home working where possible* rather than making workers take a case against the employers to achieve that. Why? The SPD controls the education porfolio.

We still have more people in offices and on public tranport than is safe with the current rate of vaccination.

Luckily numbers of parents don’t want to get Covid in the last few months before vaccination from their children, and because school attendance is still voluntary, they are biting the bullet and keeping their children at home.

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