Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Senate briefing, held by video conference, that a vaccine is “more likely than not” going to be available in a short time span–within a year or so–than the gloom and doom predictions we’ve seen flying around social media.
“It’s definitely not a long shot,” Fauci said. “It is much more likely than not that we will get a vaccine.”Fauci says vaccine ‘likely,’ but not in time for school: 5 takeaways from the Senate coronavirus hearing, USA Today, May 12, 2020
Dr. Fauci knows better than any of the Senators, even skeptical Sen. Rand Paul, who himself is a medical doctor. Fauci, as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the last 36 years, is the nation’s chief immunology subject matter expert. If anyone knows the cutting-edge of technology, and the behavior of SARS and MERS-like viruses in the human body, it’s him.
The problem here is that everyone is asking for a detailed plan, as if we can snap our fingers like Thanos and have one show up, follow it, and be assured it will work. That’s just folly.
Playing political games is also folly. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut lobbed criticism at CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield and Trump. “You work for a president who is frankly undermining our efforts to comply with the guidance that you have given us,” Murphy said. “Then the guidance you have provided is criminally vague.”
Were the guidance specific, and wrong, Murphy would be calling that criminal too.
The facts are difficult. We need to open the economy, and send grown-ups back to work. But many grown-ups are also parents, who need to care for children, who are stuck at home, with most camps, activities, and school cancelled.
Without school, parents, except those who have the privilege of working from home, either have to leave kids on their own, or not work.
But if we open up schools before there’s a vaccine, and before we’re “ready” (which itself is an arguable term fraught with danger), we will certainly start outbreaks that will be difficult to contain. Plus, who is going to convince teachers to return to classrooms?
Gwinnett County, Georgia, a large collection of bedroom communities in metro Atlanta, had its school board decide to send teachers back to the classroom–without students–to end the year. The backlash was so strident and universal, that within days, that decision was reversed.
The objections were contained in thousands of calls, emails, texts and social media posts to journalists at The Atlanta Journal Constitution; an online petition to school board members; and a letter to district leaders from candidates running for school board seats.
Georgia has seen its new case count decline since peaking on April 22, while testing has rapidly increased. Over 262 thousand tests have been administered in Georgia, with 34,848 confirmed cases as of this writing. Gwinnett County has a higher than average case rate per 100 thousand at 256.9; it is listed as number three of the top counties by case count. Since April 27, Gwinnett’s new case count has not exceeded 100.
In the next three months, the trend is likely to improve as testing, trace and isolate procedures become more effective. By August, when the new school year is set to begin, little on the ground will have changed, however. The virus will still be in the community and could spread, from children, teachers, or other staff.
Should we test every student every day, like the White House is doing with its staff? Perhaps, if it’s doable. But even then, someone can test negative one day and positive the next, causing the school to go back to lockdown. Better to continue distance learning until we can be sure the case count is practically zero. For Gwinnett, that means probably no school at least the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, unless schools can be made safe.
No school means teachers stay at home to teach. It means parents of students who cannot stay home by themselves, kids under 12, may have to stay home as they have been. For professionals who can telework or use flexible schedules, or for two-parent households who can manage on one working parent, this isn’t as big a problem. But what about single-parent homes, or service/retail/factory workers who can’t telework?
These must-show-up workers tend to be hourly, lower paid employees, but are “essential” for the economy to open. Without them, the cost of everything rises, and shortages of all kinds crop up in the supply chain. This causes inflation as companies have to compete for a smaller pool of workers. It also burdens the government and social programs, along with unemployment pools, to pay laid off employees who cannot return to work.
The Democrats’ latest “HEROES” bail-out bill ($3 trillion!) continues the $600/week unemployment benefit through the end of the year, and is chock full of bailouts for various industries and state governments. It also includes $200 billion for “hazard pay” for workers who deal with the public. This, again, will cause inflation by raising the pay of every cashier, wait person, or in-person customer service desk clerk, while parents who cannot work (or don’t want to) can stay at home to collect $2400 per month beyond their regular unemployment benefit.
This is a terrible plan, because it will stall the economic recovery, and possibly do permanent damage.
A better plan would be to pour money into a plan to safely open schools. Give teachers hazard pay. Test every student, teacher, and staff member, every day. Open “safe care” centers for young children and staff them.
We have just a few months to plan this out. If we don’t do enough to ensure that kids can go back to work, then parents can’t go back to work, and the economy will stall at 14 to 20% unemployment. That’s a depression.
Dr. Fauci’s warning about vaccines not being ready for school should be an alarm bell, not that we should keep them home indefinitely, but that we need to make schools safe to attend.