Trump: We're going to put pressure on governors to open schools this fall

Trump: We're going to put pressure on governors to open schools this fall

He’s right that every effort should be made to do this in any community where the spread is sufficiently low that one might reasonably believe it can be done safely. Anthony Fauci said the same thing this morning, as I noted in an earlier post. The cost of keeping schools closed as a precaution is high — high for kids in further retarding their educations, which may have them playing catch-up for years, and high for parents who are destined to be much less productive at work if they’re forced to continue moonlighting as teachers too. The American Academy of Pediatrics made a splash last week when it announced that it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” Reasoning:

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. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.

Gotta try. And if you’re understandably worried about children being infected and spreading the disease to their parents, take heart in the experience of other countries:

When Science looked at reopening strategies from South Africa to Finland to Israel, some encouraging patterns emerged. Together, they suggest a combination of keeping student groups small and requiring masks and some social distancing helps keep schools and communities safe, and that younger children rarely spread the virus to one another or bring it home.

“Outbreaks in schools are inevitable,” says Otto Helve, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. “But there is good news.” So far, with some changes to schools’ daily routines, he says, the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risks—at least where community infection rates are low and officials are standing by to identify and isolate cases and close contacts…

In a broader study of COVID-19 clusters worldwide, epidemiologist Gwen Knight at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and her colleagues collected data before most school closings took effect. If schools were a major driver of viral spread, she says, “We would have expected to find more clusters linked to schools. That’s not what we found.” Still, she adds, without widespread testing of young people, who often don’t have symptoms, it’s hard to know for sure what role schools might play.

If you’ve seen the comparative case counts lately in the United States and Europe, you know that we shouldn’t feel overly confident in our ability to replicate European outcomes on the pandemic. But the fact that kids seldom get seriously ill from COVID-19 raises a real possibility that they’re just not very effective vectors for the disease. That thesis needs to be tested, even if it means letting schools in areas where coronavirus is scarce open a little earlier than schools in harder-hit areas. See if there’s an outbreak in the safer zones. If not, full speed ahead.

There’s risk here, though, and not just the obvious epidemiological risk. There’s political risk. Despite the hardship in having to somehow home-school their kids and manage work at the same time, plenty of American parents are frightened by the prospect of sending them back into classrooms while cases are still raging locally. Morning Consult polled that a few weeks ago and found an anxious majority:

Overall, a combined 54 percent of American voters said they are somewhat uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the coming school year. Fifty-eight percent of voters said they’re uncomfortable with reopening day care centers, according to the online survey of close to 2,000 registered voters.

Forty-eight percent of voters said they were very or somewhat uncomfortable with reopening colleges and universities, while 43 percent said they were comfortable with the idea.

Paradoxically, Americans are more willing to let older kids go back to school even though it’s the younger ones who seem most universally immune to the disease. I wonder if that’s driven by the reports of an inflammatory illness similar to Kawasaki syndrome in some children that’s been linked to COVID-19. Cases of that are comparatively rare, but parents naturally fear their kid becoming the exception to the rule.

The political risk is that Trump, by spearheading the “reopen schools” push, will take the brunt of the blowback if he succeeds in arm-twisting governors to get schools back up and running and it ends up seeding outbreaks — or if a bunch of kids come down with the Kawasaki-like illness. I think part of the reason for his polling slide lately is that he made himself the face of early reopening in April and May; now that southern states that followed his advice are experiencing major outbreaks, he may be paying a political price. He can’t afford to pay another one when he’s already this far behind. There’s a lot riding on this, notes Gabe Malor:

I think in Trump’s mind all roads to 270 electoral votes run through economic recovery. If he can’t keep up explosive job growth through November, the case for a second term collapses. And if he can’t get parents focused on work by having schools take their kids off their hands, he can’t keep up explosive job growth. He’s going to try to facilitate that however he can.

But the dark hints in the clip below about governors maybe keeping schools closed for “political” reasons do him no favors. What’s he suggesting, that Gretchen Whitmer or Cuomo or whoever is going to keep them shut in hopes of forcing parents to stay home from work, which in turn will tank their own state’s economy, which in turn will tank his reelection chances? He tried that sort of conspiracy theorizing about Democratic governors’ reluctance to reopen early in April and May and all it’s gotten him is a job approval rating much worse than Cuomo’s or Whitmer’s. He, more than anyone else, has the most transparent “political” motive in his policy on reopening schools.

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