Governor Northam, Close the Schools

by Hans Bader

Coronavirus is spreading rapidly. If the number of people with the disease continues to grow exponentially, it will overwhelm the healthcare system within a month. Hospitals will be so packed with patients that hospitals will run out of ventilators needed to keep seriously ill patients alive, and intensive care units will be filled to capacity. The lack of adequate medical care will increase the death rate from the disease, from under 1% to over 3%.

The Washington Post reports that is already about to happen throughout northern Italy, where the disease arrived earlier than in the U.S.

To slow down the spread of coronavirus, and keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, we need to close America’s schools now.

That’s the point being made by experts like Howard Markel, who recently published an article in the New York Times. He studied the devastating epidemic that killed at least 800,000 Americans in 1918-19. His study looked at the relationship between death tolls, local government policies, and social distancing during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 and 1919.

Markel emphasizes that closing schools and doing it early was critical in lowering death tolls from the Spanish flu. As he states, “School closing turned out to be one of the most effective firewalls against the spread of the pandemic; cities that acted fast, for lengthy periods, and included school closing and at least one other NPI in their responses saw the lowest death rates.”

Your kids probably won’t die from the coronavirus. It doesn’t seem to kill many young people. But if they catch it at school, they can pass it on to their parents or grandparents, and their grandparents have a real chance of dying from it if they get it.

A few states have ordered all their schools closed. The schools will close for two weeks starting Monday in Maryland and Kentucky, and for three weeks starting Monday in Ohio, Michigan, and New Mexico. Other states should likewise close their schools for the next few weeks.

(Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency yesterday as the number of confirmed cases in Virginia grew to 17. Urging Virginians to avoid large gatherings, he canceled all state conferences and large events for 30 days, and announced restrictions on travel for state workers, but did not order any school closures. However, several public universities have canceled classes, and at least two school systems, Loudoun County and the City of Richmond, have closed their schools temporarily. — JAB)

Only a few thousand Americans currently have tested positive for coronavirus. But hundreds of thousands are carrying the disease, don’t know it yet, and have yet to be tested for it. For example,  Ohio Health Dept. Director Amy Acton says that evidence of community spread indicates that 1% of Ohioans are currently carrying coronavirus. That’s over 100,000 people in just the state of Ohio.

That figure would suggest that about 3 million Americans are currently carriers of coronavirus — hundreds of times more people than have tested positive for the disease.

If we don’t keep the number of infected Americans from growing rapidly, we will not be able to provide even rudimentary medical care for the seriously ill. As Professor Yascha Mounk notes, “a week ago, Italy had so few cases of corona that it could give each stricken patient high-quality care. Today, some hospitals are so overwhelmed that they simply cannot treat every patient. They are starting to do wartime triage.”

The situation is deteriorating rapidly. As legal commentator Walter Olson explains, “In Italy, with the number of ICU beds inadequate to handle the surge of cases, doctors are being given marching orders to assign the beds and scarce ventilators to patients who are younger and have fewer underlying conditions.”

In northern Italy, coronavirus patients over the age of 80 are frequently being denied ventilators. In particularly overwhelmed areas, “the triage line in some places has moved all the way down to ‘over 65 or younger with comorbidities.’” As medical registrar Jason Van Schoor notes, “Patients above 65 or younger with comorbidities are not even assessed by ITU, I am not saying not tubed, I’m saying not assessed and no ITU staff attends when they arrest. Staff are working as much as they can but they are starting to get sick and are emotionally overwhelmed. My friends call me in tears because they see people dying in front of them and they can only offer some oxygen.” The vast number of patients overwhelms hospitals, filling intensive care units, then other hospital units, and using up even oxygen supplies: “Staff gets sick so it gets difficult to cover for shifts, mortality spikes also from all other causes that can’t be treated properly.”

Such denial of intensive care to the elderly may spread to Italy as a whole. As Italian medical association warns, “It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care. This is not a value judgment but a way to provide extremely scarce resources to those who have the highest likelihood of survival and could enjoy the largest number of life-years saved.” (This is from the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care).

China has agreed to supply Italy with 1,000 ventilators and 2 million masks. Additionally, China is donating 100,000 respirators, 20,000 protective suits, and 50,000 test kits as part of “massive aid” package for Italy. But even this may not be enough to fill the need.

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13 responses to “Governor Northam, Close the Schools”

  1. Jim Loving Avatar
    Jim Loving

    Because of the nature of the spread of the virus, and with what Anthony Fauci testified as the failure of the American response to testing, we are likely in the calm before the proverbial storm. Aggressive social distancing through immediate canceling of most public gatherings is the only way to stem what is ahead of us.

    Fairfax County closed its schools and all activities today, with Monday still a student holiday as teachers prepare for possible distance learning approaches.

    Presumably, a decision in Fairfax, and the state, will be forthcoming before Monday or Tuesday.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Loudoun canceled yesterday. As usual, Virginia’s localities are several steps ahead of our state government. Richmond really is the weak link in our governance hierarchy.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    One significant difference between the era of the Spanish flu and now is that there was usually one parent home during the early 1900’s. That is not the case today. If closing the schools results in a lot of kids going to day care all day instead of school, what has been accomplished?

    In fact, there could be more harm in closing the schools. I have school personnel in some school districts talk about how many kids depend on the breakfasts and lunches at schools for their meals for the day. They probably won’t get them at day care. Also, all day care is going to cost the parents a lot more.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Flawed analysis. First, many parents have been told to work from home and are doing just that. I went to the gym this morning (perhaps foolishly) and guess what? Northern Virginia’s traffic problem has been solved! We didn’t need more money, just a pandemic. Second, more than half the kids in K-12 (the older ones) would be fine at home during the day, especially if their schools are executing an effective distance learning program. Third, children with older siblings could be minded at home by those older siblings. Fourth, what do these parents do all summer long when school is not in session?

      The point on free breakfast and lunch is legitimate. Companies (like the airlines) are already laying people off. Maybe those people could be hired by the state of local government to deliver the meals. Or the out-of-work school bus drivers could be enlisted to make deliveries.

      Being inconvenienced is better than being dead. Ask the Italians.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        I know that Fairfax County is providing “grab and go” lunches in selected areas of the county (certain schools) for those kids who are reliant on school lunches.

        At this stage, I’m not ready to second guess Northam, Hogan or Trump.

  3. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    Ralph is a follower. He is waiting for the kettle to fill up some more before he jumps in. All that is needed is for the major school division leaders to show some guts and close school for a couple of weeks.

  4. At midnite last night, Fairfax unexpectedly closed schools today, they say from parental pressure due to Loudoun and MD closures. Earlier in the evening FCPS did cancel community use of the buildings until April 12. Thus most evening activities are now on hold.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      You can always re-open earlier than expected. However, it’s been quite a while since a dead person rose from the grave.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Virginia is a pretty good sized state with a lot of rural.

    Closing the schools state-wide is a classic Big-govt top-down approach that is often rife with boot-thuggery incompetence!

    I’m shocked to hear the folks who typically advocate for less big govt and more bottom-up are now advocating big-govt, top-down.

    Closing schools has a LOT of consequences economic and academic.

    A lot of things are going to be damaged and that’s the tradeoff and perhaps better made at the local level especially way out in rural va where the cross-flow of folks from other places is low.

    If we had enough test kits – we could make much more informed decisions especially as to WHEN to take action. Right now, we’re flying in the dark – and we’re advocating closing everything down that will have tremendous harm – academic and economic.

    Still am amazed that the folks who typically argue against big-govt are now arguing in favor of it. GADZOOKS!

  6. warrenhollowbooks Avatar

    “First, many parents have been told to work from home and are doing just that”

    No, SOME parents have been told to work from home, for the majority of the working population that is no option.

    Second, I don’t know what interstate you were on this morning, but I was on I-95 in Richmond. Typical Friday.

    Third, “what do these parents do all summer long when school is not in session.”- the daycare that was previously mentioned

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: I-95

    In Fredericksburg, DITTO.. you’d never know there was a pandemic running amok… I-95 is chock-a-block as usual!

    Our schools are closed – now through Spring Break at which point, they will reassess.

    on the virus, is it true or not true that kids can be carriers, i.e. they can be perfectly healthy and not affected but carry the virus to school then others bring it home to parents?

  8. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    This reminds me of getting one of those lousy “Chance” cards in monopoly.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Thats a REALLY GOOD analogy! No matter what you do, there is so much uncertainty that things can blow up on you!

    we found out this morning that after today, we will no longer do volunteer taxes… for today, we’ve sprayed all the tables and chairs with alcohol and are getting clients with elbow bumps.

    Although the Church has suspended meetings for 2 weeks, the pantry will go on but significantly changed to keep people from “clumping” together.

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