Keep the schools open
Dr. John M. Livingston
It has been known since early spring that the dreaded COVID-19 virus is less virulent, spreads less, and is less infectious in K-12 children than viruses that cause seasonal flu. If you are a teacher who is less than 70 years old, you have a 99.9% chance of recovering if you become infected. If you are over 70 years of age, you have a 99.0% chance of recovering.
Of course, as a physician, I have always dealt with individual patients, and not demographics or population public health analysis. So if you are a teacher and have a comorbid condition, you should be allowed to present a mitigation strategy that is appropriate for your condition, and the school district should facilitate procedures that will help you continue teaching.
On October 2, the Great Barrington Declaration was released. It was authored by Dr. Sumatra Gupta of Oxford University in England, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Dr. Marty Kulldorf of Sweden. These world-renowned zoologists, epidemiologists, and over 35,000 physicians, public health specialists, and virologists signed the Declaration to offer a contrary opinion regarding mitigation logic and strategy specific — but not unique — to the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
They all felt early lockdowns were appropriate: 2-3 weeks may have been necessary, but once information regarding the virus became available to clinicians taking care of sick patients, the triage and patient care priorities needed to take a front seat. But these priorities didn’t. Type 3 mitigation strategy — isolating the at-risk and opening up the rest of society — has been proven the most efficacious and appropriate strategy.
Thus, locking down at-risk patients in nursing homes and extended care facilities, and then sending COVID-19 patients from hospitals back to those same facilities was exactly what we shouldn’t have done. In New York State, 0.5% of the population (nursing home patients) accounted for 50% of the COVID-19 deaths. The doctors, public health specialists, and politicians who made that decision would have been considered to have acted in a negligent fashion under the standard of care in medical practice. Those responsible need to be held accountable, including Governor Cuomo, who has just written a book touting his own success as a leader during the pandemic — some people are shameless.
But throughout the world, young people have not been affected by the COVID-19 like the elderly and immunocompromised. On October 14, in the Harvard Gazette, Dr. Joseph Allen of the Harvard School of Public Health argues that we should open up all our schools. By not doing so, he says we are putting our students at more risk than they are currently under lockdown conditions. He also points out, as I have done in an article where I argue for college athletes to return to full-time activities, that while in school under the watchful eye of teachers and school health practitioners, students are more likely to receive good diagnostic testing and medical care than they would if they stayed at home.
Without getting into discussions about masks and social distancing, this is what should be done in Ada County to protect our children and get them back in school. Instead of spending millions of dollars in testing, provide each classroom with:
- Rapid laser thermometers for testing students twice a day for temperature. In young kids (who have all kinds of viral diseases), there would be a very high false positive rate, but this would keep the great majority of kids in school for the great majority of time.
- Keep windows and classroom doors open for good cross ventilation.
- Kids should be outdoors under the sun. Vitamin D metabolism is critical in supporting the immune system.
- High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters (HEPA) should be in every classroom. These are cheap, small, and are highly recommended for spaces like classrooms and individual spaces in extended care facilities.
Many years ago, I was stationed at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and I had collateral assignments at the National Institute of Health (NIH) across the street. At a symposium sponsored by the Department of Education and NIH, I remember one of the panelists in a breakout group — the Rev. Cannon Martin from the St. Albans School for Boys at the National Cathedral — opining that keeping students out of school for snow days, hurricanes, pandemics etc. carried a great risk, because many students “go back to a less-safe place.” It’s important for students to have three nutritious meals a day, a good night’s sleep, and be in a place where the temptations of drugs and violence do not hinder study. But most importantly, Rev. Martin advised that taking the position that nothing is more important than school — except family, faith, and country — sends a message to students that the business of education is important. Seems like that is a message that the self-serving teachers of West Ada need to embrace this message, or next time someone sneezes in class, football season and prom will be cancelled.
Teachers who were paid during the 2 months in spring when schools were closed, as the parents of many of their students lost their jobs or were furloughed, should not be paid — starting last Friday — for days not worked. These selfish government teachers’ union leaders don’t represent Idaho values. They don’t represent the best interests of our children. They shouldn’t be paid unless they teach. I would even recommend legal action by parents, joined by the Central District Health regional directors.
Idahoans should “follow the science” and “follow the money.”
Dr. John M. Livingston is a Medical Policy Adviser to Idaho Freedom Foundation.