Thursday, August 6 – Close the Schools, Save the Children

By Jorah Kai CHONGQING, CHINA

Day 199. Herman Cain is dead, long live Herman Cain. His life was large, but his death from COVID-19, coming on the heels of his mask denialism and tied up in the crowded Trump rallies, was a mic drop. Wake up, reality is beating down the door. Masks are critical, not political, and a crowded, stuffy classroom is not a healthy place for your kids as we brace for a splashy second wave this fall and winter.

I don’t expect my letter alone to grind the machine to a halt, but I want to be on the record as a conscientious objector. Perhaps if enough people become alarmed, we can herd our government and trustees in the right direction. I see many people biting their nails and anxiously musing about whether they want to keep their kids in school or home school them this year, and what mental cost a prolonged lockdown might have on a young child’s temperament or education. While teachers spend the summer preparing their wills, others scroll Amazon for hours looking for the friendliest looking gas mask and goggles or trying to squeeze the money to buy their own HEPA filter with the hope it would make for a slightly safer teaching environment. I would argue that compared to the possible guilt of bringing home a deadly disease and infecting, possibly killing their older relatives, the cost of safe time with their loving families is nothing compared to what will happen when you open schools. But they shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s not their fault. It’s yours.

It’s your fault as the leaders of the government because you have all the facts about you, but are too scared that the voters aren’t convinced of the severity of the threat, and rather than take a leadership role and educate them into supporting your responsible plan to protect them, you’re hanging about in the mob acting like you have no better information than they do. But you do. The science is there, and the experts are speaking loudly enough if you take a moment to listen. We know that between a third and half of all cases are asymptomatic and that while children are less likely, unless immuno-compromised, to get a bad case of COVID-19, they are very likely to spread it. Israel released a report recently that showed weeks after opening their schools; they lost all of their gains from months of lockdown. Across Canada and the United States, summer camps are the new cruise ships. They open, and within a few weeks, there is an outbreak, 23 cases here, 230 cases there, and then they close. And what happens to the children? They go home to their more susceptible families? To quarantine and likely spread the infection to their whole household? We also know that there are many things we don’t know about COVID-19. Many asymptomatic cases experience lung scarring and organ damage, some strokes and brain damage, kidney and liver injuries, and many other issues we haven’t even classified yet. We worry about the cost of keeping the kids home but haven’t considered the costs of opening the schools again.

A recent letter from educators asks how schools plan to share supplies, keep social distance, keep them from removing masks, or trading masks, touching and playing, and not washing their hands often enough. All of this is true and valid, but doesn’t even consider the fact that hundreds of experts have recently pressured the WHO to admit that COVID-19 can live on airstreams, move around a classroom and sit for hours in a classroom waiting to be inhaled or absorbed through the eyes — that’s right, studies say that COVID-19 is 100x more adept at passing through mucous membranes as SARS and that we should be protecting our eyes with goggles in unventilated, enclosed spaces. I warned of this in my CTV blog in February, and even Dr. Fauci and the CDC started recommending it in June, but we haven’t even gotten full compliance with masks, let alone goggles.

It’s also, I suggest, the fault of teacher’s unions and schools to not insist that for the public good, they will not be opening in the fall, and instead, they are offering a well thought out online teaching platform. If you can strike for benefits or a raise, why can you not strike when your teachers are writing their wills, assuming that some of them will not live to see next summer? What we need to see is the strong, moral leadership of teachers united, showing us a responsible course of action would be to demand we postpone in-person classes until such a time as it is safe and focus instead of developing a meaningful digital platform for education. In Mexico, all classes have been canceled and school is being broadcast on the public TV channels for those that don’t have internet access. That’s responsible leadership. The teachers need a paycheque, or else they would likely take a year or two off, and here is the issue where we let the practicalities of day to day economics spread a virus and kill those who need our protection the most.

If nothing else, learn from our history books and offer the classes outside, as we did during the H1N1 Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Yes, that would look different, but it works as we know that it’s harder to spread the virus outdoors with social distancing and fresh air. Students could study, depending on their location, perhaps April-November, eight months of the year, and then relax at home for the cold, winter months, doing homework and spending time with family, for these years until it is safe to sit in a classroom again. Or why don’t you do like the NHL and test all the teachers, administrators, and students before they come to class, hoping that if they’re safe, they and their families can be a “bubble” with some confidence that won’t cross-contaminate each other? You’d have to repeat it regularly, but at least you’d have some idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Although, with the post on Reddit blowing up of a Miami teacher claiming that many teachers are buying fake negative tests rather than getting real COVID-19 tests, there are no guarantees for our children, unless we keep them home.

What’s the alternative to a safe, measured, and well thought out online teaching platform? We will open the schools in September, and in a week or two, we will have our first cases of community spread. Hundreds of homes will be quarantined while we wait for testing to find that many students have been infected and passed it on to their families, requiring more testing and more waiting and later, hospitalizations, urgent care, and in some cases, deaths. Then we will close the schools and quickly try to put together a haphazard teaching plan in a few days.

All of these ideas require bold leadership, what we have elected you and paid you to do, represent us, and protect us. That leadership is painfully absent in this pandemic, leaving us to feel like everyone must decide, for themselves, if they will be sending their kids to public schools in a few weeks. I hope for their sake, many of them don’t.

Jorah Kai Wood
High School Teacher and author of COVID-19 diary “The Invisible War” and the special exclusive to CTV News “Coronavirus diary: Life inside China during the outbreak.”

So that’s a letter I decided to write, and I’m sending out to the media so I can, if nothing else, be on the record objecting to what they’re planning…we all have to do what we can do. I’ve kept up with the daily swimming and now am enjoying the Tao of Seneca and Albert Camus’ The Plague on audiobook as I work out, walk around in the sweltering 39-44 degrees summer days. I’m still working on getting in shape, and my ankle is slowly healing. Writing my fantasy novel is going well, I am excited enough about it, but it does feel like a digression from this sort of work, trying to engage the public to save lives, as futile as it often feels it has the potential to do real good.

“In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions. Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.” – Albert Camus, The Plague

I spent the day yesterday hanging out with some friends, playing VR, and drinking beverages with my mask on, although it took some practice. The VR setup my mate Orlando has is phenomenal, and really intuitive, although, almost too realistic, as Dan punched Orlando in the face as he tried to pass by to open the door for Sean, and then chucked a “grenade” and threw the controller across the room. I found it totally lifelike, only feeling a bit sick when I could “fly” with the push of a thumb and my feet became unreal. Later, returning to our world, remnants of the virtual one stuck with me and it took a pizza and fries to remind myself for sure which was the realer world. For now.

Ethan loves Ultraman. I don’t think he’s ever seen a movie, so he might think the monsters are real and this is our planet’s great hero. He sure is excited about him. This weekend, we will take him to watch a ‘real Ultraman fight.’ I must say, I’m intrigued. It’s my birthday on Sunday, and that’s pretty fun. Xiaolin got me some gifts. One is a golden necklace with the Tibetan mantra Om mani padme hum, an ancient Buddhist mantra meaning: “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus,” to know the phrase is to know enlightenment. Supposedly, contained in this verse is the truth of the nature of suffering and how to remove its root cause.

I’ve also got a pair of smart sunglasses: Bose Frames, which I nicknamed Chairman Meow. They are pretty cool and sound great. If you’re going to live through a century plague, it helps to have sunglasses and an inspiring soundtrack.

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” – Albert Camus, The Plague