I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home. But I couldn’t concentrate. Our kids needed help. And I just could not get my mind off the rule, which mandates closure for two cases regardless of the school’s size or if, as has happened in my school, the two cases are kids grades apart who never cross paths. What, I wondered, do people who’ve studied schools and COVID-19 think of that?
So amid meltdowns, moping (mostly mine) and minimal learning, I started reaching out to doctors and scientists suggested by my colleagues who cover COVID-19. I asked three questions: What do they think of the rule? Is there a better way? And how do the vast racial disparities in COVID-19’s impact — and in families’ willingness to send their children back into school buildings — inform their thinking about where to draw the lines?
I ultimately got the perspectives of 10 epidemiologists and physicians. Nine said the two-case rule doesn’t make sense. One said that the rule could be effective if the goal is truly zero cases, but at a cost. I also reached out to the city itself, which has said for nearly two months that it’s reconsidering the policy, as well as the teachers union, which told me it continues to support it.
Beyond the rule, I ended up getting a sense of the chasm that exists between what scientists have concluded makes sense — in short, open schools with protections — and what communities are still doing in many parts of the country. New York may have a quirky rule, but the majority of children in California still do not have access to in-school class.