As we’ve said, there are excellent reasons for schools to do everything possible to reopen. The risk-benefit calculation for education is very different than, say, for filling football stadiums. But as Kanakuk’s cautionary tale makes clear, the risks can’t be minimized.
One usually reads of the peril posed by “enclosed, poorly ventilated” settings. But Kanakuk’s website made it known that every cabin had been outfitted with filtration systems — “NASA developed units [that] provide multiple layers of active defense against airborne viruses and bacteria through active filtration, ionization that deactivates” impure elements. In addition, the camp said, its precautions included documented health screenings; daily temperature checks; highly qualified doctors and nurses; hand sanitizer in all buildings; limited access to camp grounds for outsiders; elaborate quarantine protocols; rigorous cleaning; and stringent limits on touching — even a ban on campers exchanging high-fives and holding hands while saying grace. Before camp started, campers and employees also had been urged to self-isolate for two weeks.
None of it worked. On July 2, with the outbreak spreading out of control, Kanakuk’s camp was shut down. Missouri state health officials have since said that more than 80 campers, counselors and staff tested positive for covid-19, and camp officials told families that those infected should quarantine themselves for two weeks — presumably in homes where their parents and siblings will now be at risk.
The Kanakuk camp is located in an area midway between Springfield, Mo., and Fayetteville, Ark., that had been lightly touched by the pandemic before the summer season. Campers and staff came from all over; it’s likely that one or more of them arrived infected with the coronavirus and were the vectors for contagion. What’s striking is how fast the disease spread, and how many were sickened.
That could happen as easily at any school or college, where students, teachers and others attend class after having traveled over the summer, including to parts of the country where coronavirus cases are surging. It highlights the urgency of controlling the spread of the virus in the community at large, something many nations have managed with considerably more success than has the United States.