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|
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.