school and covid

Most Seattle area schools have announced closures for the first six weeks.  How are things in Seattle?  Well, here are our confirmed case counts:

Doesn’t look great, right?  Well, it’s worth looking at test counts.  We are currently at about 3.5% positives, compared to something like 20% positives early in the year.

As you can see, test numbers have risen dramatically.   Here are hospitalizations:

For me, hospitalizations are the most informative measure for understanding short-term Covid status.  Median time to symptoms is 4 to 5 days.  My understanding is that hospitalization normally occurs rapidly (within a few days at most) after symptoms arise, if it’s going to be necessary.  Looking at this plot, there is a definite uptick, but it is small.  King County provides paltry statistics on hospitalizations and Covid in general compared to, say, Texas, but we do know the following:

  • 2.4% of hospital beds are occupied by Covid patients
  • 64% of hospital beds are occupied / 36% are free

Deaths are obviously the best indicator of the impact of Covid, but there can be a huge lag.  Nevertheless, here are deaths in King County:

I don’t see any uptick in deaths whatsoever.  The “surge” started in mid-June, so if there were a legitimate increase in cases, I would think we’d see that reflected in deaths by now to at least some degree, but time will tell.

Again, I share all this to answer the question, should schools in the Seattle area open?  Should I send my children to school or elect the online option if they do open?

It’s also worth considering at some level the risk to various populations from Covid as compared to the flu.  Note that the CDC has updated their estimate of Covid fatality in the US from 0.4% to 0.6%, a significant increase, but still quite low (or quite high, depending on how you look at it, I suppose.)

Fatality rate is only part of the question.  How many people catch the illness is the other, and Covid appears very contagious.  I decided to look at deaths through the end of June for Covid and use the knowledge that the CDC says roughly 5% of Americans have been infected.  Let’s assume very conservatively that 100% of Americans would be come infected if we went about business as usual.  Therefore, to compare the relative impact, I multiplied fatalities through late June by 20 and compared against the worst fatalities for that age group from the flu in the last ten years.

Age Group Flu Max Deaths Covid Deaths Predicted Covid Deaths – 100% Exposure % Risk Delta
0-4 396 17 340 0.86
5-17 870 14 280 0.32
18-49 5240 2970 59400 11
50-64 6751 20665 413300 61
65+ 50903 92280 1845600 36

Now, 100% exposure would never be reached.  While a densely populated urban area might be able to reach close to 100% exposure, most places will not, so there is inherent conservatism in the approach.  However, given the overwhelming uncertainty, I think some conservatism is warranted.  Also, I should note that I calculated this a few weeks ago and haven’t updated it.  The risk should obviously remain constant as Covid spreads, but more data will make it more accurate.

In summary, the risk from Covid for a child between 0 and 4 is slightly less than a bad flu year.  Between 5 and 17, the risk is substantially less – less than a third the risk of a bad flu year.  The 18-49 age group is obviously of interest to all of us.  We have roughly 10 times the risk of a bad flu year from Covid.  Now, I consider my risk of death or permanent injury from flu negligible.  What’s 10 times negligible?  I think still extremely low and not worth worrying about.

50+ your risk is SIXTY times a bad flu year.  Given that at 50, your risk from the flu has also increased, this is starting to get alarming, and the Covid death numbers reflect this.  Obviously, the 65+ folks are hit the hardest.  While they have “only” a 36x factor on the flu, you can see that 50,000 people in this age group die of flu in a bad year, so their risk from flu is high to begin with, and 36 times high is very dangerous indeed.  Tell your parents and grandparents to stay home.  (I do, and they half listen to me.)

My conclusion from all this is that yes, Seattle schools should stay open.  Teachers aged 50 or older and with any co-morbidities should stay home.  Students who share a household with someone over 50 or with co-morbidities should stay home.  That’ll probably result in about half the kids in classrooms and half at home.  In a separate post, I’ll share the steps my school is taking for safety, as recommended by the state DOH.  If Seattle schools cannot support everyone going back, they should at a minimum open their doors to all students on free or reduced price lunches, typically less than half the student population in Seattle.

What do you think?

Since I started writing this, almost all Seattle-area public schools have announced they will be 100% virtual.  I expect them to remain virtual through next summer, given current numbers and what I know about vaccine development efforts.   Our small private school is currently planning to open its doors with an extensive array of safety precautions.  We are planning to send the kids to school.   (It wouldn’t surprise me if the county DOH forces the school to close, but we’ll see.)

Again, what do you think?  Am I being stupid and risking the lives of my family?  What would you do?

I should add that my job disappeared with Covid, and so I’m not working right now.  I’m enjoying being home with the kids, and I love that S gets to see her sisters all the time.  However, language immersion doesn’t really work through remote learning.

8 thoughts on “school and covid

  1. Karen

    I think that school systems that are taking an all or nothing approach are ignoring the science — both of COVID and of education.

    I think that K-3 should be in person. And I feel this even more strongly if you are at Title 1 school. We should bring in extra teachers or helpers for these grades and spread out across the buildings, use pods, etc. But K-3 should be in person. I just do not believe that children this young can learn well via online instruction without substantial outside support, which the most vulnerable will not get.

    4-6 is more of an iffy set. Here I think it would depend on the ability to spread out, perhaps these kids do a hybird.

    7-12, college it is clear these children should learn remotely.

    Special needs is another area that is worth considering separately. Again, I’d roughly break it by under 10, come in person, over 10 see what can be done.

    We are rolling the dice and enrolling our kids in a small private school — not something I wanted to do, but at 3 and 5 they cannot learn virtually, and crazily enough the private school was cheaper than a full time nanny.

    The only caveat I have is the disturbing information coming out about long term hear/lung damage from folks who have contracted COVID. I’m not read good studies here, but that to me is rather disturbing.

  2. admin Post author

    Hi Karen – regarding long term damage to people with Covid, my question would be how it compares to long-term damage from the flu. In other words, I am sure that many people with flu sustain “permanent lung damage.” If Covid is 10x mroe severe for our age group, does long-term damage occur 10x more frequently than with flu, or more than 10x. My *guess* would be 10x more frequently, but I would really like to confirm that with data.

    Do you think 7-12 should be closed even in areas with very low amounts of Covid? Schools in Roanoke are opening at all grade levels. They have had very low amounts of Covid there per capita, presumably due to low population density and lack of agriculture. I don’t see any reason to keep schools closed there.

    I also would argue that 7-12 should probably open to at least needy children in urban areas like Seattle – not hot spots like Houston, but I’m curious what you think. I know I could have learned remotely at grade 7, but I’m not sure all kids can. In fact, I’m pretty sure Isla at age 8 is better able to handle remote learning than some college kids.

  3. Christina F

    Warning: this is my most favored soap box right now

    We are sending all of the kids (6, 11, 13) To full time school at the independent school where my husband is an administrator. (This is their second year there)

    Private schools have the space to meet the 6 foot rule that people subscribe to. Even if they didn’t, I have no worries about sending my kids to school. I have come to similar conclusions to you about the numbers and I am irate that school systems are refusing to educate kids. For the vast majority of kids, remote learning is not a viable option and it drives me nut that people think it is. The science actually shows terrible outcomes for under education (poor health outcomes, crime, incarceration, etc.). The science has shown very little about the true long term effects of Covid. In the early days we had much to learn about treatment, but I do believe the data shows improvements in case fatality.

    I find the “don’t make me choose between my health and teaching” mantra maddening. Lots of people choose between their health and job everyday! Nurses aren’t insisting that remote nursing is a reasonable alternative! Miners aren’t mining remotely (tho my company has a robot for that). So many underprivileged students (through high school) don’t have the access to technology to do remote learning. This approach also ignores all the other services schools provide beyond math and English.

    Teaching is a frontline job. That is the reality and we should (1) pay accordingly and (2) insist that teachers do! Their! Jobs!

    I say all of this with my family so firmly believing this that my husband is back full time at his school (has for a few weeks now). My 6 y.o. is at the day camp there. It is easily for people to say these things, but we are actually living it.

    My kids were only in private school bc of the logistical reasons. So it could been that we would be in an all virtual option that our public schools have announced. And they would have been fine as we would have made it work. It is those in terrible householdS, who have little suppprt systems, who really need the support system of in person school that do not have access to private school who will never recover.

  4. becca

    middle school sucks anyway, i would have been better off if I didn’t go. there’s my non-scientific answer.

    I also agree that no one is talking about the middle ground of school openings – eg how they should and can open while also maintaining as much safety as possible (physical distance, small class sizes, temperature checks, quarantines for whole classrooms if theres an exposure, etc.)

  5. Rosa moore

    I think public schools have a huge challenge regarding opening safely – spacing, cohorting, ventilation and staffing resources are nearly impossible to accomplish in our school district. However, I tend to agree that something should be done for reopening for select groups of students for the reasons you listed. Your graphs and data were very helpful btw!

    We are sending our kids back to school but they go to a small private school where I am also the school nurse. Reopening safely is definitely challenging and requires a lot of flexibility on the part of everyone from administrators to teachers to staff…and then we need to have a strong buy-in from our school community to abide by our symptom monitoring standards as well.

  6. admin Post author

    Hi Rosa – Yes, public schools have a huge challenge for sure. In our area, they are show no indication of rising to that challenge . . . yet. But maybe they’ll exceed my expectations in the coming year.

    Your school is very lucky to have you on staff. I think an on-staff nurse can probably make a big difference right now in terms of keeping schools safe.

  7. admin Post author

    Hi Christina – sorry it took me so long to approve your comment. Somehow it didn’t get auto-approved, and I didn’t see it for a while.

    I completely agree with you, but it’s more meaningful coming from you as someone married to a teacher.

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