August 4, 2020

Social Distancing – High School Style

And he’s back in the salt mines on regular hours and attempting to pick up where he left off a few weeks ago. The first few days back at work are always about emptying inboxes – physical and electronic. I learned long ago that if I’m going to take time off, I need to take a minimum of two weeks. If I only take a week, my colleagues will just let things pile up in a corner for when I get back. At two weeks, they will deal with what they can in my absence so at least the immediate patient need piles aren’t as bad as they might be. Two days in and I’ve pretty much tidied it all away or have a plan to deal with it over the next week or so. The major undone task is putting together some zoom lectures on aging for my usual church sponsored adult enrichment course that will take place the next few weeks. I have all the material so it won’t take that long. I just need to sit down and do it.

And it’s time to dive back into the accidental plague diaries. Alabama continues to be in a surge. The number of Covid inpatients at UAB is roughly double what it was late March – May as the infections that ticked up with the opening up of the state in June turned into serious infections and hospitalizations in July and will turn into a spike in deaths in August, just in time for us to open up the schools. I come from a land where schools didn’t start back until Labor Day, but here in the Deep South, they tend to begin mid-August. From what I can tell, the departments of education in the southern states, like most other governmental entities, rather than grappling with the problems posed by the corona virus, are simply passing the buck further and further down the chain of command and leaving things up to individual school districts. There are a number of school districts in my metropolitan area and they all seem to be completely at sea as to what they should be doing in regards to in person learning, distance learning, after school activities, safety of teachers and staff. Each one seems to be taking a different tack and sailing off a different edge of the earth. New emails come out daily causing parents to be more and more confused and completely unsure about what is actually going to happen as schools gear up over the next few weeks. The largest entity, Jefferson County schools, decided today that they will have no in person classes for the first nine weeks of the semesters. The teachers will report to school and conduct classes remotely. How that’s supposed to work for students without laptops or how a teacher is supposed to effectively teach twenty five kids via Zoom was not explained. Some of the rural Georgia districts started back this week and the first day of school pictures beginning to circulate on social media do not look promising. They show teenagers being teenagers in the halls with no social distancing and only a rare mask. Covid-19 spread in 3…2…1…

I see the country as a whole beginning to have a major surge this fall, far worse than we are seeing now as all those young people mix and mingle and carry each others microbes home. Add to that the fact that high school football programs (a near religion in this part of the world) are going great guns and Friday Night Lights will soon be here and we’re going to have even more issues. I’m not overly worried about the kids. The data suggests that the vast majority will not get seriously ill (although vast majority doesn’t mean all and some previously healthy children and teens will die). I’m much more worried about the teachers and staff who have dedicated their lives to nurturing our young and who are already horribly undervalued. When they have to choose between their calling and their mortality, what will they choose? What happens if a significant portion of the teachers in this country quit because it’s just too dangerous for them to be around crowds of young people? Do we redesign schools to be smaller and less centralized? Do we make more education home dependent? What happens in those families that can only make it economically if all the adults work, sometimes at multiple jobs? Families are likely to start doubling up and becoming more multigenerational in order to have an adult in the home for child rearing and supervision. When that adult is a grandparent or great grandparent, what does that mean in terms of their risk for corona virus infection? I don’t have answers for any of this, but it’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

It fascinates me that the basic attitude of our governmental institutions is towards the pandemic is one of ‘if we pretend it isn’t there, somehow it will go away’. Nature doesn’t work like that viral illness can’t be swayed by op-ed columns or mean tweets, or 30 second campaign commercials. It only obeys the laws of biology, chemistry and physics, but we seem somehow determined to shunt aside the findings of science for feelings or wishful thinking. We can keep doing that, but as long as we keep doing that, things are not going to be ‘normal’. No one is immune to the virus and we don’t know what protects some of us and keeps us from getting ill or what causes some of us to end up for weeks in the ICU despite no previous health history. There are tantalizing clues and the scientists are working overtime, but I’m not sure the politicians are actually listening. My handy dandy corona virus counter says we’re at 4.77 million cases in the US as of this afternoon. That’s 1.45% of the population. It’s likely an undercount as so many young people are asymptomatic. Let’s say we’ve missed half of them so 2.9% of the population has been infected to date. At this point, we are somewhere north of 155,000 deaths. (That’s roughly three Vietnam Wars). If we continue to do a whole lot of nothing to stop the disease and it continues until we reach herd immunity (roughly 80% infection rate), we’re looking at about four and a half million deaths and who knows how many chronically ill or disabled. That’s roughly fifty percent higher than the number of US military casualties in all of the wars and actions we have ever fought over the last two hundred and fifty years. Or the population of the entire San Francisco Bay area if you want something a little less military.

We can’t have normal unless we grow up and do what is required to bring things under control. Have a real lockdown. Develop a testing system that can rapidly identify the infected. Trace those whom the infected have come into contact with. Put the good of society ahead of our own personal convenience. That’s what works. Until that happens, we’re going to continue to have disasters – both major and minor and whole sectors of the economy, those that depend on groups of people being able to get together, just won’t be able to function normally. Most people I know are being pretty good about doing the things we can do as individuals – wear our masks (I’ve got a great source if you want some fashionable ones), wash our hands, don’t get too close, don’t go out if you don’t have to. But that only goes so far. We need those other things as well and I’m pretty sure we won’t get them before next January at the earliest.

I’m a bit of a Debbie Downer tonight and this post seems a bit repetitive of other things I’ve put up. Now that I’ve had my decompress time and am back on usual schedule, I’m willing to do some research and burrow into some more interesting tangents so if anyone wants me to wax rhapsodic on something in the accidental plague diaries, let me know. You can always send me a message if you don’t want to post it publicly.

Maybe I’ll watch Hamilton again…

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