Opinion: Finding Meaning


Reopening school? Let families choose

Schools, it turns out, are easy to close but hard to reopen. Wouldn’t you expect it to be the opposite? We temporarily shut down in March to “flatten the curve.” It was a one-size-fits-all approach given urgency by the chaos in New York area hospitals. Those conditions didn’t exist in southern California but, knowing little about COVID-19, we went along. Flattening the curve was replaced by waiting for a vaccine so the 15-day shutdown dragged on. Here are five facts to support kids wanting to get back in school:

First, our immunity is better than we had understood. Besides the antibodies created by having Covid-19—with, or without (40% per the CDC) symptoms—many also carry protective T cells developed by prior exposure to similar viruses, including four common colds. T cells, a type of white blood cell, can recognize certain virus cell proteins, stimulate antibody production, and even kill those cells. In a study at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore of 37 healthy people with no known COVID-19 or SARS history, more than half had T cells that recognized COVID-19 protein. This may explain why some people don’t get COVID-19 when exposed but also suggests we’re much closer to “herd immunity” than we have thought—as suggested by the dramatic decline of COVID-19 in New York City.

Second, there’s encouraging information from the Mayo Clinic that vaccination for other diseases may provide some COVID-19 immunity. Seven current vaccines seem to help; those who have received the polio vaccine, for example, had a 43% reduction in COVID-19 infection. This may help explain the low infection rate for children, who are required to be current on vaccinations to enter school.

Third, the preliminary conclusion of a large UK study of 20,000 students and teachers in 100 schools concluded, “It is absolutely essential for schools to reopen in September. The risk to children from COVID are very low and the risks of school closures we know are very serious.”

Fourth, The Washington Post published an article dialing down expectations for COVID-19 vaccines. Initially we were told a vaccine would be a panacea; now maybe not so much. The article notes that it took 24 years for the polio vaccine to eliminate that disease. It also reminds that early vaccines tend to be less effective than later versions, noting that flu vaccines provide only 40-60% protection. Vaccine preference will likely be given to older people, the most vulnerable, with school children rightfully being last in line. Bottom line, we shouldn’t wait for a vaccine to reopen school.

Most importantly, the CDC has weighed in with a release titled “Importance of Reopening Schools.” The CDC cites the very low infection rates of school children around the world and adds that U.S. deaths of children from pneumonia-flu-COVID-19 this year are less than in our last five flu seasons. Their conclusion: “Extended school closure is harmful to children. Reopening schools creates opportunity to invest in . . . our children—while taking every precaution to protect students, teachers, staff and all their families.”

Laguna should heed the CDC and reopen its schools now, while providing online study options to children from families with special concerns. Parents should stand up for their children by contacting their school board trustees and expressing their wishes. To make democracy work, the citizens must work. There’s meaning in that.

Skip Hellewell fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email: [email protected]

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