Covid Crisis Hits New York City Schools

Yves here. Apologies for being heavy on Covid coverage, but Omicron is in overdrive while the political and business worlds are still getting up to speed after the holidays. New York City may be a canary in the coal mine as far as the impact of Omicron on schools is concerned. One reason for running this post is to elicit reader intel on how schools in their communities are faring.

Many elements of this story are striking: the plunge in attendance rates, the level of teacher absences, and the fear among students. But this stuck out and was part of the subhead: “unvaccinated children fill hospital intensive care units.”

Recall that children under 5 cannot be vaccinated. Pfizer found its vaccine didn’t elicit a strong enough antibody response on 2 to 5 year olds to justify its use.

So school openings have the potential to generate bad second-order effects: older kids get Omicron (whether a bad/symptomatic case or not), and infect younger siblings and babies who are more vulnerable.

And the photo below says it all: students cheek by jowl eating lunch, with three adults hovering, two in mere cloth masks.

By Katie Honan, Josefa Velasquez and Farah Javed. Originally published at THE CITY on January 3, 2022

Mayor Eric Adams visits Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx with Schools Chancellor David Banks. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Facing his first major test as mayor, Eric Adams vowed Monday to keep New York City public schools open despite record-busting city COVID case numbers, even as one-third of children stayed home as classes resumed following holiday break.

“We want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is in a school building,” the mayor said at a press conference after visiting Concourse Village elementary school in The Bronx. “And we are going to keep our schools open and ensure that our children are safe in a safe environment.”

While nearly a million children were scheduled to return to public school classrooms, children with COVID infections — almost all of them unvaccinated — are filling up hospital intensive care units, say those who treat them.

The city’s teachers union called for temporary remote learning as New York City fights the latest COVID wave, as the share of positive COVID tests across the five boroughs reached 22% on Monday.

Some parents and teachers called for a “sick out” to protest the lack of a remote school option. Student attendance at city schools on Monday was 67.38%, according to the Department of Education —in contrast to rates that approached 90% this fall.

Data on absences from teachers, administrators, and staff at city schools was not immediately available, according to the DOE.

Students who did show up expressed anxiety.

“I am constantly in fear of getting COVID because of the people around me that aren’t willing to follow the safety precautions correctly,” said Katherine Jiang, 16, and a student at Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge.

She thinks schools should resume remote learning — the online education all students experienced for some or all of last year — as cases continue to rise.

“People are still missing [in-person] learning because they are scared of getting COVID,” she added. “They would rather stay home.”

Test for Teachers

School staff are also facing their own attendance crisis.

On Sunday evening, the principal at P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens alerted parents that the elementary school would remain closed because of staffing shortages. On Monday evening, they reversed course.

But a similar fate could await other schools, like a Brooklyn elementary where roughly a third of staff called out on Monday, third grade teacher Andrea Castellano told THE CITY.

“My school was almost at that point. We had 20 absences today,” Castellano said, speaking of her school’s teaching and support staff. “There are no subs. On a normal day you might be able to get an [Absent Teacher Reserve] or somebody who could cover the class, but with 20 people out, there’s nobody to do it.”

Teachers combined classes as needed, she said.

But Adams, facing the daunting COVID recovery in his first week in office and a surge of record-level infections, said students will remain in school — and pointed to vaccination and the distribution of 1.5 million take-home COVID tests as one way the buildings will remain safe.

Adams appears to have an ally in Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is pledging to keep schools open even as some schools across the state are switching to remote learning because of staff shortages.

In Rochester Monday, Hochul cautioned against remote learning, citing accessibility issues for communities of color that may lack access to high-speed internet and other resources.

“The teachers did the best they could. The parents did the best they could. But we ask too much to try and manage children learning remotely and the disparities among communities across the state,” Hochul said.

‘We’ve Seen 50 Kids’

Vaccination rates among children lag, even following Food and Drug Administration approval of vaccines for children as young as age 5. Just 43% of children 5 to 17 are fully vaccinated in the five boroughs, with 13% partially vaccinated — while nearly 44% of eligible kids remain unvaccinated, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Hospitalizations among unvaccinated school-aged children are rapidly rising, said Dr. James Schneider, the chief of the pediatric critical care unit at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center on the Queens/Nassau County border.

“I’m the chief of the ICU, and I can tell you right now we have the most number of kids that we’ve ever seen in this entire pandemic admitted to the ICU and the hospital, frankly. We’ve seen 50 kids, for example, in the hospital today who have COVID and more than half of my ICU is positive for COVID right now, which is just unheard of,” Schneider told THE CITY.

While some of those kids come in for other reasons and happen to test positive for COVID in the hospital, for many other young patients the virus itself “is contributing to their illness,” he said.

The rates are a “dramatic change” from mid-November when maybe one or two kids with COVID would be treated at the hospital, Schneider added. The vast majority of the hospitalized children — some as young as a few weeks old — are unvaccinated and have illnesses that span from fevers and respiratory issues like pneumonia, to neurological conditions, Schneider said.

“If your child is vaccinated, the risk of a severe infection is exceptionally low. The vaccine is especially safe and, now we know, effective. And not being vaccinated still puts your child at a higher risk of developing a severe infection — and we’re seeing it every day,” he added.

‘Safe by Design’

David Banks, the new schools chancellor, outlined health and safety protocols in an email sent out to schools across the city.

Any student who shows COVID symptoms or may have been exposed will receive at-home tests. Anyone who may have been exposed to a positive case can continue to attend school if they don’t have any symptoms and test negative, according to the Department of Education.

Students who test positive for COVID must isolate for 10 days following the first positive result.

In The Bronx Monday morning, Adams and Banks also discussed a new “command center” for principals and district leaders to address any issues, although it’s unclear how this differs from the current “situation room” which tracks positive cases in schools.

Banks said that “schools are safe by design” based on mandatory health screenings and testing.

“They have to pass a health screening, that building has fully functioning ventilation, universal mask usage, and every adult is vaccinated,” he said Monday. “These measures make schools the safest environments for young people to be in.”

In an interview on NY1 Monday night, Banks said that “over 98%” of students previously ordered to quarantine never got sick or tested positive.

But some students said the mandatory health screenings didn’t do much to make them feel safe.

“It’s useless and I feel my safety is in danger,” said Yin Yan Lui, another 16-year-old student at Fort Hamilton High School. “I don’t know how to protect myself from other people who got it. I would want school to close down because it’s really dangerous and scary.”

Antonio Zuccardi, a 17-year-old senior at James Madison High School in Midwood, Brooklyn, said he’s trying to make it out of the latest COVID wave without getting sick.

“I feel safe about it even though it’s rising but I haven’t gotten positive yet,” he said. “I hope to stay that way, but if there are cases I will take precaution and keep my distance.”

Unvaccinated, in Class

In lower-income neighborhoods like the one Castellano teaches in, a shortage of testing sites, underlying health conditions, low vaccination rates and racial demographics means students and their families are at increased risk of getting sick.

“People in power should be thinking about those dynamics [and] how equitable they are across the city,” she said. “This is an equity issue. It’s not the same for everybody.”

“It’s a giant experiment with children being the main pawns for this. They’re mostly unvaccinated and most vulnerable and they’re doing the least to protect them,” Castellano said.

Teachers at Castellano’s school have also had to largely pause their planned lessons for the past few weeks due to poor student attendance spurred by the influx of new cases.

While fewer than half of her students showed up to school Monday, in other classrooms you “could count some of the class numbers on one hand,” forcing teachers to press pause on their instruction until more students show up.

“It’s a huge disruption.”

Adams pushed back firmly on such concerns.

“I know there’s questions about staffing, I know there’s questions about testing,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of questions. But we’re going to turn those question marks into an exclamation point — we’re staying open.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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    1. vlade

      Many parents can’t afford to stay with their kids at home for distance-learning and that assumes they all have the HW and services to do a good quality distance-learning. I know of a number of cases where they have three kids in different age groups, and were really struggling getting all of them laptops (because otherwise you have to also get a screen and all) to do remote learning. And now laptops are even more expensive.

      Moreover, speaking as a parent, if we didn’t spend at least as much time again (which again, heavily eats against parents time) teaching our daughter, she’d have been way behind. Distance learning works for some, but not many, kids. And extended distance learning seems to embed bad learning practices in most kids – at least right now. Teachers are taught how to run in-your-face classes, distance learning requires very, very different techniques, and different again based on the age of the kids (what do you tell a kid who says “my camera doesn’t work today”, and then also “and I have a problem with the mic”? Could be a genuine problem, could be just wants to take a nap or a play a computer game)

      It’s a much more complex issue than just “get the kids off the school!”.

      If we have understanding for unvaccinated, we’d have some understanding for parents who want their kids in schools.

      1. jimmy cc

        it isn’t complex at all.

        The economy needs workers, not people parenting their kids.

        Because Markets.
        Go Die.

        whether the citizens want thier kids in or out of school is irrelevant.

        When Trump was president, the dems were fine with closing schools. Why the change?

        Did the Dems want the market ro be adversely affected ao they could try to pin it on Trump?

        everything is simply a self interested political calculation to these people. Not one of them makes a decision about schooling based on the parents wishes.

        They told us as much. let’s take them at their word

      2. BeliTsari

        My point, in trying to get this source aggregated, was: simply hiding, lying about & covering up the exponential number of kids infected, then basically ignoring subsequent community spread, PASC & auto-immune Inflammatory damage or likely repercussions, as 1099’d precariate workers (without insurance, sick days or unemployment) lost work, infected caretakers and finally read emails and memos, instructing DOE employees to cover up what we’ve all known, from the beginning of classes (eg: repeatedly cutting testing, which verified suspicions?) Many kids need to be in school. They’d simply NOT implemented realistic and adaptable protocols, to deal with easlily forseen contingencies.

      3. David

        Agreed. The idea that you can satisfactorily educate children remotely at home is a technocratic Musk-induced fantasy. Lots of parents cannot afford to stay at home. In poorer communities, parents (especially immigrants) may not have the skills to help their children. Many homes don’t even have one laptop, let alone one for each child. A study in the Hauts-de-Seine, the richest Department in France, a few years ago, showed that around 20% of families relied on mobile telephones to keep own touch with the school, since they had no internet connection. Needless to say, these were overwhelmingly recent immigrants, the unemployed, one-parent families etc. And for that matter teaching by internet is inherently tiring and unsatisfactory. I’ve done it.
        Ultimately, this is a class war issue. The children of the middle classes, with a bedroom and a MacBook each, are quite happy, and mummy or daddy will pop in from the home office every now and then to see how they are getting on and give them some surreptitious help. The wide and increasing education gap between the classes is already a threat to any kind of real democracy, and this can only make it worse.

        1. vlade

          TBH, even most middle-class parents I know hate this.

          If they child just started school, it effectively means schooling them on their own, while losing many of the social skills kids get with their classmates. Yes, middle class can afford to it unlike poor, but most have no idea how to start with.

          If it’s an older one, say teenager, it’s a daily struggle to get them to do anything, unless they have their own motivation to start with (which, let’s face it, most don’t at this time of life).

          My brother’s son was in a well performing class in a non-state school (not a paid one, the system here’s complex), up till school year 2020/21. Then, at midterm, no-one, literally no-one had an A from the maths, the best two pupils had Bs, and about half of the class had Fs. And they didn’t give a toss. And those same kids were supposed to do something like A levels in the UK later that school year, which would drive which unis they could go to.

          Paradoxically, the poorest families here might end up the best off, as many charities basically got them private teachers.

          The worst off were those just-about-coping. Not poor enough to qualify for the charity help, not rich enough to either not care, or be able to solve it at least partially.

          1. curlydan

            I looked at the average ACT scores for in my kids’ district. In this somewhat well-to-do district, average ACT scores consistently hovered around 24. Then once the pandemic hit, averages fell to 22 to 21.5. Remote learning is hurting even these largely middle- to upper-class kids.

          2. ChrisPacific

            Yes, I am squarely in the middle class demographic David is referring to and home schooling really didn’t work well for us (thankfully we haven’t had to do it much, so far).

            Native intelligence and curiosity combined with a large dose of parental reinforcement mean that our son will likely never struggle with reading/writing/math, irrespective of what kind of classroom experience he has. On the other hand, he really needs the interaction and social skills development that he gets from in-person schooling, and that part is impossible to properly replicate at home.

        2. Michaelmas

          David: Ultimately, this is a class war issue.

          All very true, but ….

          The children of the middle classes, with a bedroom and a MacBook each, are quite happy, and mummy or daddy will pop in from the home office every now and then to see how they are getting on and give them some surreptitious help.

          Anecdotally, I know folks in the SF Bay Area who are pulling down $150 grand a year from working for Apple, Google, etc, but are single parents with, say, two kids who — even with the ability to hire help — are barely even dealing with it — are close to the end of their tethers, in fact. So even for many of the presumed middle classes, this online schooling is not making it.

      4. Howard

        If public health was the sole criterion then schools as well as commerce would cease for a medically indicated duration. Unfortunately, we live in a hyper-neoliberal society and 2022 has ushered in a bipartisan pernicious austerity whose waves always break clearly on the public school system. The reasons given to maintaining in person education are real and valid but they seem to be mostly material. In a functioning culture all the material needs would be supplied to get us through a few weeks of “lockdown”. Imagine the USA pulling this off with new cases practically going to zero. We would be able to open the economy up with a Phoenix like reborn society, one where human well being takes precedence over spending 8 trillion dollars on war.

        1. Michaelmas

          open the economy up with a Phoenix like reborn society, one where human well being takes precedence over spending 8 trillion dollars on war.

          We definitely can’t allow that now, can we?

        2. vlade

          “mostly material” – well, yes and no. A kid won’t get his age back, ever. It’s different when you’re teaching a 6 year old or a sixteen year old. A year (or even a few months) lost at age 6-10 really makes a difference.

          Yes, it will have impact on those kids future careers. But it will also have impact on them as citizens and people.

          It’s really different in a kid’s world.

          1. BlakeFelix

            I mean, brain damage and dead/crippled parents can also make a long term difference, I would imagine. Maybe like boarding schools in an NFL bubble? Zero COVID and open schools would be my first choice…

  1. Henry Moon Pie

    “We want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is in a school building,” the mayor said at a press conference after visiting Concourse Village elementary school in The Bronx. “And we are going to keep our schools open and ensure that our children are safe in a safe environment.”

    Schools serve three real purposes in our society:

    1) In our survival-of-the-fittest society, schools serve as a conscience balm by providing the children of the poor with at least one meal a day while giving teachers a chance to check for obvious signs of physical abuse.

    2) Schools are free day-care for workers.

    3) Schools socialize children to become wage slaves.

    At-home school sessions completely fail to serve objectives 1) and 2) and provide an unacceptably low level of socialization for 3).

    Adams, like those who bleat their concern for workers if non-essential businesses, like bars and restaurants, are closed, is pretending to base his decision on 1) when that problem, especially with the federal money that has been showered on cities in the Covid-relief packages, could be handled with meal programs and home visits. The real reason is 2), but even that could be handled with government-provided free day care.

    Nothing fundamental will change, even in a pandemic.

    We live so that through our work and consumption the billionaires will continue to get richer. That is priority #1 and #2 and #3. Nothing else matters. The same philosophy applies to climate change.

    1. Pat

      I realize it is a side issue, but the government is not going compensate anyone who needs to stay home because of the infection.

      I am not exonerating Adams or Hochul, but Biden and Manchin and yes all the other clowns in Washington have also thrown everyone into the volcano and are just hoping enough manage to crawl out and work with half their skin burned off.

  2. Michael Fiorillo

    The kids and their families are at a breaking point. A colleague of mine who teaches in Brooklyn told me a female student committed suicide on her birthday over the holidays, and another who teaches in Queens said there were “no words” to describe how bad things are at her high school, which serves a 100% immigrant population.

    People thought De Blasio was bad, and he mostly was, but Adams is going to be Beyond the Beyonds…

  3. ChrisRUEcon

    This is insane – on so many levels.

    Out here in ChicagoLand, IL, the prescriptive disconnect is alarming. So basically, we had shelter in place, remote schooling and no indoor dining/drinking about a year ago when daily new cases were about 7500 (flashback via Granted this was before widespread vaccinations; but as we all know now, non-sterilizing, or even flat out minimally-effective-against-Omicron vaccines. Fast forward to where we are now, which appears to be around 22K to 25K new cases per day, and: there is no shelter in place; schools are not remote; bars and restaurants are open albeit with vaccine and indoor masking requirements – whatever that means. Thankfully no school staffing issues and not many reports of sick teachers or kids in our little neck of the woods … yet.

    Complete and utter madness.

    1. CGKen

      I’m also in Chicagoland in a suburb with above average vax rates. High school switched to virtual because 35 faculty called in sick over the weekend. Grade and middle schools are in person. The district hasn’t updated their numbers but kids report up to 25% absenteeism. Whether due to positive tests or parents holding their kids back out of fear, I don’t know.

      Also the grade school nurse quit over the winter break. She couldn’t take getting yelled at by parents anymore.

  4. Kurtismayfield

    We have 20% of the teaching staff and 15% of the students currently out on COVID quarantine. Still chugging along, and I have made every assignment this week doable in school or online. So I am basically back to online schooling expectations for the students this week. I hope it is all temporary.

  5. LAS

    In NYC, we just had our supplies of covid home tests intended for the community quietly redirected to the schools, putting the community effort on hold until more are available. This is like saying the same city resources shall be available for both A and B purposes, whereas the truth is they are either here or there but not both places. They are a token offered up in public speeches to damp down concerns: “See, we are responsible public servants, we’re in control, and you should feel safe. Don’t think for yourself. We’ll do it for you.”

    How bad would it have been to delay school re-opening after the holidays by two weeks and extend the school year into the summer by the same amount? The Addams administration like DiBlasio, is expressing anxious economic interests, probably office real estate, tourist/entertainment industry venues, AND city tax revenue bean counters. The controller probably has more influence on policy than Eric Addams. Entertainment industry investors have got to be thinking twice about the next investment, and writing down the value of their last one. It’s the anxiousness I perceive in the administration that has me most concerned — mainly about what response they’ll take next.

    I often think Lambert is too reductionist, but his economic model: (1) because markets; and (2) go die is beginning to win my support.

  6. Roger Blakely

    The rules for isolation and quarantine go state by state. When the CDC changes its guidance on isolation and quarantine, it does not mean anything until each state’s public health department adopts it. Isolation means that you are sick with COVID-19 and staying home. Quarantine means that you were exposed to SARS-CoV-2 due to close contact with someone who was spreading the virus and that you are staying home while we watch you to see if you get sick with COVID-19.

    When the CDC issued its 5-day rule on Monday, 12/27/21, it blindsided everybody. It took until Thursday night of last week (12/30/21, 8:11 p.m.) for the California Dept. of Public Health to respond even though the governor immediately Tweeted (still smarting from the recall effort) that California would follow the CDC’s updated guidelines. The CDPH added, however, that people needed a negative test result before getting out of COVID jail.

    You can sense the problem here; i.e., testing. Though this is not well explained, the previous rule was based on symptoms. The present rule is based on testing. The present rule says that you are sick with COVID-19 if you have a positive test. You can get out of COVID jail on day 6 with a negative test. Don’t worry. Over-the-counter laminar flow tests count too.

    Oh, but you say that all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t get you tested? OK. You can get out of COVID jail after ten days.

    The theory that we might resort to is based on symptoms. The deal is that we are supposed to focus on the two days before and two days after the arrival of symptoms. If symptoms arrived on Wednesday, that means that you were spreading the virus Monday through Friday. If your symptoms are getting better, you are probably good to leave COVID jail on Saturday.

  7. Pat

    About that one school closure

    and I realize it is Fox and short on confirmation

    But apparently that disciplinary item was talked about in schools in other boroughs according to people I know. No other principal is going to shut down without specifically being told to do so.

    IOW there is no shutting down in NYC regardless of your staffing levels. There was no shutting down because of infection levels as the level for shut down kept going up with the rate of infection prior to the New Years administration change.

    And I won’t get into the other cynical reason I think they distributed the home tests in the schools. It is far easier to ignore a positive test if you desperately need the childcare schools provide.

  8. John Beech

    My wife is on sabbatical this school year. She resisted because she genuinely enjoys her work (Special Ed.) but there was no way we could risk our health for money. So it’s meant a significant swing in finances, which we’re fortunate in being able to afford. My heart breaks for teachers with no choice but go to work. My heat breaks for politicians who face the realities of parents who can’t afford to quit, can’t afford to stay home, businesses that will go broke without employees, or without customers. And my heart breaks for the politicians who led us down this path of ignorance and ever let this ‘my rights’ strain of Americana gain precedence over ‘my responsibility’.

    At every stage, this thing has been mishandled. Trump began Operation Warp Speed, good for him, but then the idiot got vaccinated in secret . . . boo-hiss! A real leader would have rolled up his sleeve on national television in the middle of the Mall for all to see, and then encouraged everybody to pitch in an help put this disease down. Biden came in, vaccinated on a special television set and has fumbled around in his response, this testing at home debacle being emblematic of a foolish approach to governing our leaders produce.

    Like what the heck, do we really get the leaders we deserve? It’s not just a trite saying? Anyone shocked? I’m saddened. Now the kids are getting sick. But nobody was concerned with the old folks getting sick? What a bad joke. What a sad joke.

  9. IEL

    We started the pandemic with kids in kindergarten and daycare; now they are in 2nd grade and preschool. Remote kindergarten and 1st grade were an educational and mental health disaster for kid #1. In-person school has been good.

    Kid #1 is vaccinated. The elementary school has good ventilation systems, lunch is outside, and the windows are open all day despite the cold. Kids are required to wear kf94/n95 type masks. We are hoping the school can stay open. If not, we might be able to swing things with remote work and flexible schedules, which we count ourselves very lucky to have access to. But kid #1 really needs school for their mental health.

    The preschool has the same mask policy as the elementary school. It had no cases through the whole pandemic (it was closed for most of 2020 though). However, it has staffing issues now due to cases contracted before or during the holidays. Kid #2 is staying home this week out of caution, which makes getting a full day’s work in essentially impossible, but we are fortunate to be able to make that trade off.

  10. MP

    No better argument to (1) because markets and (2) go die than seeing what’s unfolding in the schools. As noted about 1/3 of students are currently out of school, and god knows how many teachers. I know it’s a different industry, but the TSA noted that 1000 came down with covid in just the last two days. So by not even having a remote option, which was asinine from the start but goes right along with (1) and (2), you are showing your hand that the only purpose for school is to be daycare for parents who need to go to work, who are also sick. Truly deranged society.

  11. Tom Hoffman

    My wife’s middle school in urban Rhode Island started with half their grades on Monday. They had 20% test positive while in school on that day. My wife also tested positive Monday, and the rest of the administrative staff, plus all the extra quasi-administrative staff that had been hired with COVID money were also out, so the school closed. This was not in the news or even on the district website.

    At least one charter school in the district were a little more together so they tested Monday without running classes, so they at least caught their 20% positive students before putting them in the classroom.

    I had a student test positive yesterday after being in my room all day. His friend told me that he said he’d tested positive at home a few days ago. I tested negative twice during the day. (I’m lucky to be near the nurse’s office) and sat with a N95 behind my desk with the window open, HEPA cleaner on full and hoping I’m not positive and infecting anyone else.

    Before Christmas, I received regular letters as a parent or faculty members about positive cases in each school. So far I’ve only got one, where the school had 8 positive cases so far. We did get an email from our nurse this morning saying he would be catching up on paperwork between testing, so maybe this data has note been reported yet (to be fair, understandable if you’re physically running testing all day).

    The disconnect between the intensity of the political desire to keep schools open at all cost and the totally haphazard, ad hoc, last minute measures being implemented is hard to deal with.

    Getting an email saying we’re doing a phased opening “out of an abundance of caution” when it is really an “acceptable risk” is hard to swallow.

    We haven’t had significant spread in schools up to omicron, we’ll see if that holds up by next week.

    1. Tom Hoffman

      Following on to myself…

      I don’t understand why people are acting like once we would go out we would not be able to get back within two weeks or a month at the absolute outside. We KNOW these come in waves and there’s very good reason to think at this point that this is a short, sharp wave.

      If this was really about learning, we’d be at least entertaining the possibility of taking off two weeks now and adding them in the summer. Being “innovative” about school during the summer is periodically popular idea. Maybe we should try it now? Instead, adding school days to the end of the year is being treated (especially in Mass.) as a fate worse than serious illness.

      1. chris

        In our area we were told that there was no way the union, the district, or the state, would approve of radical changes to the calendar. I’m not sure why. I do wish we would have started school earlier and then maybe taken the month of January off.

  12. eg

    Field report from across the border in Ontario. As of 12:01am this morning we are back into “modified step 2” restrictions. Schools are closed to in-person learning (except for certain special needs students who are unable to participate in remote learning) until at least January 17. This is a massive U-turn from less than a week ago when the Ontario Medical Officer of Public Health declared that schools would be open as of today.

    Case data is severely compromised since the Province abandoned its prior protocol last week due to system overload — they are restricting PCR testing to hospitals and congregate living locations (long term care facilities). It appears that the new metric for government action is hospitalizations and ICU occupancy levels.

    In addition to school closures, there is a 3 week minimum ban on in-person dining and capacity restrictions on retail and other indoor gatherings.

    All the restrictions listed here:

    We’re basically back to May/June of 2020 all over again though this time we do have the benefit of whatever protection vaccination confers, which is at least something.

  13. CallMeTeach(retired)

    People are just focusing on teachers, but support staff I dropping like flies, too. Where I am there weren’t enough bus drivers, so one of the schools had to go remote for a few days so they could reroute busses to the other schools.

    And as was pointed out, what good is having kids in school if they’re crammed into another teacher’s class and no instruction is going on? It’s really all about babysitting for some people.

    What is already happening–and will continue to happen–is that good people leave the profession and what will be left are those who cannot quit/retire and are there only for the money. Teaching is losing its institutional memory and incoming newbies at the same time. What will be left will be horrific like we’ve never seen before.
    The teacher bashing is off the charts and completely unfair. Have you noticed the PMC railing at teachers “do their job” on social media? Yeah, that’s going to win hearts and minds. Let each of them be a sub for a few weeks if it’s no big deal.

    What has been revealed by the pandemic is how little teachers are valued and how craptastic lots of parents are. The bad behaviors in school are, in part, spillover from lack of discipline at home. People say, “What do you expect parents to do when they work, too?” I don’t know, but they’re your kids you chose to have. Raise them. Quit expecting schools to be everything. When did it become the job of school to provide character education, food, mental health, physical health (not gym class, but health services), self defense from active shooters, as well as instruction? I know…when society foisted what should be the responsibility of parents onto schools–underfunded schools staffed by underpaid peons (teachers, paras, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, librarians, etc.)
    Nurses are leaving in droves. Teachers are too. Society is screwed.

  14. jhallc

    My daughter teaches pre-kindergarten (3-4 year old) special needs children in a blue collar town just outside Boston. They have six classrooms in the old senior high school that they abandoned when they built a new one. They can’t use the upper two floors due to water leakage and asbestos issues. One teacher is out and they redistributed her 8 kids into the other 5 classrooms. They are short in class aides. They should have 2 per classroom. They each have one. More kids, less aides and if another teacher requires quarantine it just gets worse. They can’t find subs or replacement aides. Perhaps the administrative staff that has been working from home should be made to come into the classroom to cover the staff losses. Never gonna happen. She’s only been teaching 5 years and is ready to quit.

    1. Joe Well

      Subs are paid so little, it’s no surprise.

      I thought about subbing to get out of the house and as a civic duty but given that the pay and working conditions are an insult, no way.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Retired NYC teachers are being offered $250 per day to sub in January by the DOE, $200 p/d after that. They were getting a little a little over one hundred when I retired three years ago.

        1. Joe Well

          Retired as in mostly over 65? Have they seen the mortality tables for COVID?

          Still not raised in Mass AFAIK and I checked at beginning of December.

    2. chris

      Yeah, you’d think they’d call in the admin staff to help but that’s almost never done.

      And if your area is anything like ours, the admins and VPs are the ones responsible for contact tracing so if they are redirected thats another service that won’t be handled correctly.

      This is an absolute disaster.

  15. Joe Well

    A relative works in a public school here in Massachusetts.

    The cafeteria is like in the picture: students eating elbow to elbow without masks, teachers forced to stand nearby and supervise, all in a space without such great ventilation.

    A lot of precautions were taken to “make classrooms safe” (filters, masks) and letting infections boom in the cafeteria just turns it all into theater.

    At one point they were eating at their desks, not sure why that stopped.

    My relative also reports a lot of absences among both teachers and students, to the point that there have been mass emails about making different contingency plans.

    Also, as was well reported, the test rollout to teachers on Monday went poorly. Only one test per teacher instead of the promised two.

    1. jhallc

      In Massachusetts many teachers/class aides didn’t get tested until Monday morning. My daughters classroom aide showed up, tested positive and went home. Her kids still eat in the classroom. I made sure she has HEPA filters in the classroom and now that she has windows she opens them.

      1. Joe Well

        First of all, thank you for advocating for the HEPA filters.

        Were they able to confirm or deny anything about air quality in the cafeteria where it is most important?

    1. BeliTsari

      Almost, as simple as black and white? I’d be simple to say we’re in FIVE very separate cities (boroughs), three worlds (1%, 9.9% and We The Peons) or Black, LatinX, Asians, whites & WHITES. But, I’m guessing these dichotomy matter less than believers and sceptics? Rich folks seemed to skedaddle a tiny bit less, this time? Fewer Nissan, Kia and Mitsubishi… more Audi & GeelyVolvo SUVs still here? I’m pretty sure, our sneering neighbors, bought into “It’s Mild” and “Super Immunity” ads for Omicron© and spent happy hour, subliminally trying to “live with COVID?” I’d got it from the dentist, my partner from her PT (or sneering, unmasked yuppies jumping line at Zabar’s?)

  16. Dave in Austin

    Is anyone else out there rereading “The Plague” by Camus: A dense place; educated people of good will trying to understand and counter a plague with a world of poor “others” in the background; official words designed to comfort more than inform?

    I note that Yves’ call for personal experiences has led many readers to write very informative and thoughtful posts for the first time. As they said in the old USSR, “Time to crank up the mimeograph machine and tell the truth”.

    I’m noting a profound disconnect between the urban, suburban and rural experience of Covid.

    Urban middle class people have less space. The outside is more potentially dangerous so kids are controlled and kept inside. Both husbands and wives are likely to be educated and putting in long hours. The neighbors are unknown and transient. The grandparents, siblings and companions of their youth are far away. Their world functions by exchanging money for the time and effort of “the other”, who they really don’t know. The other is often poor, of a different race or an immigrant. When the complex web begins to break down the parents are thrown back on their own personal resources of time and money. Mass transit is Uber, the cab, the bus and the subway. Distancing is barely possible; people can’t distance easily from people who “act different”.

    The suburban world is a bit different. Parents who spawn seek out little worlds of people like themselves. There is more room, more cul-de-sacs, more homes with yards, more gender division of labor with the recognition that the guy-gangs and the girl-gangs must value and depend on each other. Mass transit is the minivan. Distancing is enforced by group norms; the renegades are shunned.

    Finally there is the rural and small town world. Less educated, less mobile, more dependent on old childhood and school friends, the inlaws are down the street, the grandparents and cousins nearby. The ones who went to college are school teachers, nurses, cops and engineers. People have room to socially distance (meaning physically distance; why the euphemism?). The only mass transit is the school bus. Eccentrics are everywhere, rarely noticed or recognized by outsiders, tolerated and not shunned. The system is poor, hermetic and resilient. The income is low but the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) isn’t bad.

    An old woman I once knew lived through the end of “the War” (no specific name for the war was needed) near the North Sea in Germany. I asked her what the summer of 1945 was like. She said “We were lucky; we were occupied by the British, not the Russians or the Americans. The rich, successful people we knew who’d moved to the cities came home and started planting potatoes just like the rest of us.”

    1. chris

      To add to this, there’s plenty of people who live in rural areas and have lots of money. Our own area is very well off and the housing lots range from 1 acre to 5 acres. Some houses are enormous. There is no public infrastructure. There are no sidewalks. But the parents are usually both employed in high paying jobs as consultants or government contractors.

      This time of uncertainty with public schooling has been poison to these people, and myself included. I’m highly taxed for schools and services that I can’t send my kids to reliably. I’m told I’m not doing enough to help my kids even though the only reason they’ve continued learning is because of what we’re doing to support them at school and away from school, which means the work that pays the bills gets done late at night. I have to pay for therapy for kids who are starved for interaction and I’m supposed to be happy to do it IF I can find any therapists accepting new patients under the age of 18.

      Even worse, when we do have virtual school, I get to see teachers who can’t use simple tools like Zoom or Google Meets fail to improve or adapt their lessons. And then they curse me, often when I’m in the room with my kids for not helping more. I’m usually one to support teachers when they complain about being the dumping ground for all of society’s ills. But so many are so incapable of doing virtual school well that I would rather we close the schools, refund me my taxes, and postpone public education than go through another extended period of lock down and virtual school. The district won’t change requirements and expectations to make it work, the state won’t do much because it’s a “temporary” condition, the union won’t approve of flexible solutions, the teachers don’t have the training or support to do it well. If Omicron means we need to lockdown to be safe then let’s shut the school house doors and rethink things. I want no more part of it.

  17. Blue Duck

    Sonoma county, CA.

    I have two kids in elementary school – early grades. Our school has done a great job so far this school year. Before the year started they modified the air filtration system in all the classrooms and have set up air monitoring systems. They do mandatory weekly testing.

    Before class went back they offered voluntary testing in the week between Xmas and new years. No idea on how many families took up the offer, but we did.

    We are on day 3 of back to school. I think today is the first run of weekly covid tests, so we’ll see how that goes.

    My two school aged children are vaccinated, but I have a four year old at home who is not. My wife is at the tip of the covid spear – she is a front line medical professional working directly with covid patients in the hospitals. So our exposures are probably more likely to come from her as much as our kids school.

  18. polar donkey

    Teachers went back Monday, kids today at my children’s schools in north Mississippi suburb of Memphis. No new protocols. All they had before was quarantine of sick kids and contact tracing of students sitting nearby a sick kid. Teachers pretty much assume the school will shutdown in a week or two and go remote for a couple weeks. Rhodes College in Memphis delayed returning to campus 2 weeks from mid January to late January. Around here, Memphis had about 2,900 cases a day Saturday and Sunday, Monday 600 were reported. Local media acted like better times ahead. No one could get a test. Tuesday and Wednesday, right back to 2,600 and 1,800. No tests mean better numbers. The plan is everyone just gets omicron but keep the public numbers low as possible. My brother-in-law in rural Tennessee started coughing last Monday afternoon. Took a home test Tuesday morning. Positive. Had a fever Tuesday. Took vitamins, decongestant, an antibiotic, and a drug who’s name is not allowed to be spoken. Never felt too bad. Fever went away. A little fatigue, but congestion/runny nose continued. Fever came back Monday and oxygen level fell. Oxygen went back up today and fells better. No idea if he had gotten Delta or Omicron. Does he need to worry about still getting Omicron? Who knows. Data collection in the US is utter s**t. Whocoddaknowd Delta AND Omicron were coming. I haven’t voted for a democrat since 2014. Only voted for Bernie in primaries of 2016 and 2020. Will never vote for a republican and don’t plan on voting for a democrat again for a long, long time, possibly never. Let’s Go Brandon, Wallensky, and Fauci.

  19. Dan

    Report from Oakland, CA. My kid contracted COVID over the holidays and tested positive New Year’s Day, so we’re having a quarantine party at home. He was not alone, though: the school district sent home two tests with (almost) every kid before the holidays, asking them to test on Friday 12/31 and Sunday 1/2 before going back to school. They also had several community testing sites with free walk-up testing.

    Yesterday we got the tally from the superintendant: the testing caught 985 COVID cases, 920 of which were students or staff who would probably otherwise have gone to school and the rest family members. (For reference, there are 36,000 students and about 5,000-6,000 teachers and staff in the district.) 269 teachers and staff were absent Monday, though it’s unclear how many overlap with these positive tests.

    So, at a minimum, about 1,000 of 42,000 staff and students had COVID going into Monday – 2.4% or thereabouts. If testing caught only about half of cases active as of Sunday (since around half of students seem to have submitted test results – data from the press release is vague), that suggests a true prevalence of 5%. And of course people are starting to test positive this week who picked up the virus since Sunday.

    The testing must have slowed the spread very substantially, but without sending tests home with every kid every week (which the district just doesn’t have the capacity for), I think we’re just delaying another shutdown.

    It’s going to be quite a ride this month.

    1. bluegrapes

      My partner works in the Sacramento city schools. Yesterday the district announced that 500 of 20,000 students had tested positive over Christmas Break. This morning they announced they are closing after-school programs after today. What a mess. We have learned nothing.

  20. Joe Well

    I just heard from an 18 year old double vaxxed (back in March) high school student who has COVID which he apparently contracted on NYE. Basically looks like a weeklong flu, and if you think that is no big deal, you’ve forgotten what a week long flu is like.

    1. Yes, vaccinated 18 year olds can get a symptomatic case that is bad enough to sideline them. Obvious implications for absenteeism.

    2. Extra insane the authorities pushing people back to work and school directly after the NYE superspreader events.

    3. He did not take social distance precautions at all and actively rejected KN95 masks in favor of surgical masks. A lot of teenagers and early 20 somethings are “over” covid, they just keep it hidden from older people. The idea that it is the Fox News demographic keeping this going is insane.

    4. I had seen him the day before NYE and then visited a number of older people on NYE and wow do I feel like I and they dodged a bullet. Also like I should be more COVID phobic, but I know I just can’t keep to myself any more than I already am. The new normal: physical health vs mental health.

  21. C.O.

    In BC the start of in person classes is delayed across the education system until 10 January for now. Testing capacity is overwhelmed, there is now an average of over 2500 new identified cases per day. The Provincial health officer basically made fun of each reporter who asked about N95 mask availability, especially at vaccination sites because supposedly those are places where we are safest of all. It is starting to look like the school districts in BC are being positioned into shutting down in person learning or correcting ventilation on their own with the provincial health officer publicly scolding them for acting to improve school safety and cut down aerosol spread. The message now is that we are “personally responsible for our own health” – it is uncanny to see such obvious evidence of officials internationally using the same sheet of bullet points. Hospitalizations have already gone up by 54% in just a week.

    Rather than try to do anything useful after he and all MPs across parties agreed to a 6 week vacation early for Christmas last year, Trudeau has decided to go to the media and claim that Canadians are “angry and frustrated” with the “unvaccinated.” I don’t think he has the slightest clue how despised he is, or that he talks to anybody outside his own clique.

    I’ve been rereading And the Band Played On. I know that HIV is due to a completely different type of infectious agent, has a different transmission vector than covid and they are not comparable as causes of illness – yet it reminded me again of IM Doc’s comment about a recent rise in usually rare cancers and other health conditions suggestive of deeper immune system derangement.

  22. chris

    Reporting from a wealthy county in Central MD, outside of DC and NoVA…

    We have multiple schools with recognized outbreaks of COVID-19. We also have a lot of families who traveled internationally on vacation during the holiday break. We had no requirements for testing prior to kids arriving back in school on January 3. The snow and ice event was used as a way to soften the return to class today. Kids had been home with class canceled on Monday and Tuesday and today we had a 2 hour delay. There was no snow where we live by 8 AM this morning, but we still had a delay. Oh well.

    Teachers are staying very quiet about the issue compared to last year. Publicly available data suggests most are vaccinated and those with underlying health conditions quit or retired before the year started. We had an all virtual option start up this year but to join it you had to give up any seniority or tenure in the county. Not surprising that few teachers jumped on board. I think those who are staying are a combination of resigned and frustrated. I don’t think they need a lock down as much as an extended vacation. We expanded the number of half days in the school calendar to give them more half days during the week for planning and development. That seems to have made some happier.

    We may very well end up closing school due to staffing issues. We will certainly close the schools if the hospitals are overwhelmed. But right now there are no plans for virtual education to resume.

    Parents are upset on both sides of the issue. Those who say it’s not safe and it makes no sense to stay open now when we would have closed last year during the same conditions have a good point. But they’re also the ones who insist on going on vacation, refusing to limit exposure away from school, and tend to complain about expecting their kids need to be vaccinated. The parents who say that we shouldn’t lock down again because our schools have modified HVAC to minimize transmission, HEPA filters in class rooms, kids are masked, teachers are masked, and a high percentage of all people in schools are vaccinated have a good point too. They’re also correct in worrying about opening up again if there is a shut down because the last time we did that we were closed for a really long time. But these re-open stay-open people are also the ones who tend to have kids wearing open mesh masks (aka, “malicious compliance”), send their kids to school when sick, and refuse to test their kids when identified as a close contact.

    There are limits to how many kids can be out of class for a day to count as a required school day. If more than 10% of kids are absent then it doesn’t count as a school day. And of course if teachers aren’t there we can’t have class. The district has said it is evaluating schools on a case by case basis to determine if there needs to be a shift to virtual education. We haven’t been shown what virtual education would look like now. The last time we did it was awful.

    So, my county and neighbors are screeching entitlements at each other. They’re scaring their kids. I feel safe sending my vaccinated and masked kids to class but I’m preparing in case they’re sent home. I have no idea what will happen. I can’t say what will make the pro-lockdown people ever feel safe. I can’t say what compromises the re-open stay-open crowd will accept to make that a safe possibility.

    Meanwhile, my property taxes are set to increase by 5% this coming year. So I’ll be paying even more for fewer services. I’ll get to hear public employees insult me and mock my kids while my tax burden increases. Yay…

    Money can’t buy you harmony or a functioning society :/

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It sounds like all these parents are cultural warriors all using their kids as human shields.

      Is that an overly uncharitable interpretation of what these parents are, and are doing?

      1. chris

        Nope, that’s a fair approximation. The re-open stay-open crowd lost their minds when the lockdown brigade started talking about equity issues and how white kids shouldn’t be the first ones to return to school. Which the black parents took as a sign that school wasn’t safe for white kids, so the issue was quickly side lined and forgotten. Ditto when the lockdown brigade proposed another semester of part time in person to let children psychically heal from the trauma of the pandemic. As if kids have an infinite amount of time in school and everyone has a stay at home parent to help with this.

        The other side has just as many crazy people banging on the social media drums. So, yes, both sides are using the kids to make a point. Meanwhile, we’re fighting battles to get developers to pay the fees they’re supposed to pay so that we can build more schools and have less over crowding. Which also means safer schools. But that point is largely lost in the stupid culture war going on.

  23. drumlin woodchuckles

    It sounds like Mayor SuperCop of New York City is a Blue Brotherhood Rambo who will double-dog dare the teachers to all strike at once over safety and disease issues.

    ” Go ahead. Make my day”.

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