How to keep a fall surge from becoming a winter catastrophe


Many cities have refused to open public schools, for fear that doing so will trigger a mass outbreak, and still others—including Boston—are delaying in-person instruction as positivity rates rise. As a result, America’s pandemic is becoming an education and family crisis, one that is particularly devastating for low-income and minority children—and their parents. One nationwide survey co-sponsored by the Associated Press found that just one in four Black and Hispanic students has access to in-person instruction. As K-12 education, or some crude approximation of it, becomes a stay-at-home affair, parents are being pulled out of the workforce to serve as teachers. No surprise, the school-closing pandemic is mostly a tax on working mothers. Married women lost almost 1 million jobs last month, while overall employment surged.

America can’t go back to normal without school. But Americans don’t have to choose between health and education, or between health and parental sanity. Japan’s example proves that.

After containing the spread of the virus—more or less the same way South Korea did—it worked to virus-proof the classroom, as much as possible. In Japan, where most schools are back in session, schools have largely avoided outbreaks by enforcing universal mask wearing, encouraging kids to socially distance, and installing cheap plastic shields to interrupt the flow of aerosolized particles between students. Using advanced computer models, Japanese researchers have demonstrated that cracking open a window and a door on opposite sides of a temperature-controlled room can properly ventilate a class with dozens of students. Masks, distancing, and ventilation: Yes, it might really be that simple.