THE DOCTOR IS IN--Is it possible to demand our schools reopen while being adamantly pro-teacher/education?
Is it possible to demand teacher safety and rights while also demanding the political/administrative will to reopen schools, even if that leads to a change in leadership?
I would claim a strong "yes". So do many of you reading this.
It needs to be emphasized that there are both teachers who are heroes, as well as teachers who are self-absorbed and have lost their way with respect to who their constituents are (as a physician, I assure you that I've seen that in my own field, as well).
It also needs to be emphasized that if teachers’ unions (not front-line teachers) and school board administrators (many, but certainly not all) focused with a laser beam approach on students, then virtually all of our schools would have opened up by now.
This despite teachers rightfully scared of catching COVID-19 and placing their lives at risk, particularly since there is absolutely no question that parents are knowingly sending their children to school who've been exposed to and/or infected with COVID-19.
Let's review some of the latest and greatest COVID-19 news first, though, shall we?
1) The Biden Administration is revising Dr. Fauci's past prediction that all categories of Americans can have access vaccination by April back to the summer of this year. My guess is that we can only grow the materials for vaccines so fast...so don't be surprised if that date is extended to the fall (and I would love to be wrong here).
2) If you have had COVID-19, only one single vaccine dose may be necessary. I suppose it's not hard to consider the infection as your "first dose" of a two-shot vaccination course.
3) The likelihood of the requirement of wearing masks may be as late as 2022. See my previous suggestion above that we're not going to be sufficiently vaccinated as a nation until the fall.
4) The CDC reports that those vaccinated against COVID-19 need not quarantine after new COVID-19 exposure. There are benefits to vaccination.
5) If you do NOT get sick after vaccination, it's not a problem. If you DO get sick after vaccination, it's not a problem--remember that the vaccines cause local COVID-19 spike proteins to be made to encourage a local immune response.
6) As with the common cold, the reason you feel sick and lousy is because of what YOUR immune response is doing, and not the virus itself. Like with a good workout at the gym, revving up your body's immune system ain't always too fun and pleasant. Anecdotally, my senior citizen friends and patients do NOT get the bad reaction, perhaps because with age your immune system gets less potent, and less likely to respond vigorously to vaccination.
7) Hand washing can help stem the transmission of COVID-19, although touch and surface transmission aren't NEARLY as risky as coughing and speaking as a way to spread the virus So wash your hands...but wearing two masks (as big a pain in the rear as that is!!!) is even more critical to minimizing viral spread.
8) Vaccination protects others around you from viral spread and the widespread Israeli vaccination is associated with a whopping 94% drop in symptomatic COVID-19 cases So widespread vaccination, which was emphasized in both the last and current Presidential Administrations in D.C., is our best way out of this pandemic.
Back to education and reopening our schools:
1) Affluent areas are reopening their schools fast than in low-income communities This may be in part to greater demands by affluent parents, and this may in part due to the aforementioned likelihood that poorer regions are more likely to be infected with COVID-19, and more likely to risk transmission by knowingly sending exposed and/or infected children to school ...
2) ... which is a horrible way to treat our teachers. Hence the number of new infections being lowered is the best way to reopen schools. Ditto for vaccinating teachers at risk...but how about those vaccinated and/or individuals with past infections and antibodies being enrolled to attend school classes and safely (with masks and face shields) interact with children while teachers safely teach via a screen/Zoom meeting?
Kind of like jury duty...we're at war, dammit!
3) The flip side of this conundrum are school boards and unions who callously and selfishly are NOT focusing on science, and mistreating students and parents by ignoring their mission statements by not prioritizing their constituents. Underscoring this inappropriate behavior is the "hot mic" incident in a San Francisco Bay Area school board making disparaging comments about their students' parents, forcing them to resign.
Certainly small and more FOCUSED districts are doing WHATEVER IT TAKES to safely reopening their schools, but it's not hard to conclude that some major problems exist in education/teachers unions and administrators who need either sharp pay cuts and/or termination for "dereliction of duty". Kids' mental health and suicides are going UP...which should be our greatest concern. Our main concern. Our most frightening concern.
4) Our vaccinated and past-infected population is going up...so shall we ignore the science, and shall we ignore that segment of society that can and must help some of our most vulnerable...the children (and their parents, who need to go back to work)?
If the Biden Administration wants to emphasize a "United America" approach to running this nation, and ditto for our state governors, then educational crisis should not be a problem to solve:
Again...we're at war. Again...we have to whatever it takes!
(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was termed out of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) twice after two stints as a Board member for 8-9 years and is also a Board member of the Westside Village Homeowners Association. He previously co-chaired the MVCC Outreach, Planning, and Transportation/Infrastructure Committees. He was previously co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, the grassroots Friends of the Green Line (which focused on a Green Line/LAX connection), and the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)