He mentioned several experts and media outlets that had endorsed reopening schools.
“They’re all saying there’s risk, but there’s more of a risk keeping your kids out of school. Send them to school. Meanwhile-”
“But Brian,” co-host Steve Doocy interjected, “at the same time, how many politics are involved in those other countries?”
“I don't know,” Kilmeade replied.
“Is it an election year? Does that have anything to do with it?” Doocy said. “Ding ding ding!"
Ding ding ding! Doocy has solved the mystery: The reason people don’t want to reopen schools is that this will cause President Trump to lose reelection.
Also not for the first time, this line of argument directly echoes Trump himself.
“We have to get our schools open and stop this political nonsense,” Trump said last week. “And it’s only political nonsense; it’s politics. They don’t want to open because they think it will help them on November 3rd.”
It’s unquestionably true that parents are eager to get their kids back to school and to day care, and that those parents’ employers share that sentiment. Having to juggle caring for children while working from home is an ongoing frustration that compounds the stresses of the pandemic, and solving the problem would be an unequivocal achievement.
It is also true that parents don’t want their children to get sick. It is equally true that they don’t want other family members to get sick or to get sick themselves.
So we have polling like that released by Axios on Tuesday. Seven in 10 parents think that sending kids back to school in the fall poses a moderate to large risk to their family. That figure includes a majority of Republicans and more than 8 in 10 Democrats. Doocy can ring his bell all he wants, but it’s probably not going to be sufficient to compel parents to do something that most see as putting their kids and themselves at risk.
Despite some common rhetoric, there is a risk to children. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that among people under 15, there have been two dozen deaths nationally of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Some of these children, if not all, may have had complicating illnesses, but it remains the case that children can contract the virus. In New York City, the estimated rate of infection among those under 18 was 361 in 100,000, with about a tenth of those cases requiring hospitalization.
This would be less worrisome to parents if they felt confident that the risk of infection was low. Clearly part of the concern, though, is that the pandemic is obviously not under control in most of the United States. As we’ve noted before, a central difference between countries such as Denmark, Germany, Norway and the United States is that the former three countries managed to contain the pandemic within their borders, as did the European Union overall. Even Sweden, which never closed schools (and has paid a price for its uncontained approach), has done better at limiting the spread of the virus than the United States has.
As of Monday, the density of new cases each day in the United States was more than 20 times the rate in Europe broadly. It was more than 145 times the seven-day average of new cases in Norway. That’s as a function of population, mind you, meaning that it’s not just because the United States is bigger. It’s because the United States is much less able to contain the virus.
Comparing the United States overall with places such as Norway also obscures the fact that the spread of the virus is often narrowly constrained geographically. If we compare the United States and the European Union to the state of Florida or to Orange County, Calif., the risk posed by reopening schools is made more obvious.
As of Monday in Florida, there were more than 500 new cases for every million residents — each day on average. That's 55 times the rate seen in the E.U. and 395 times the rate in Norway.
That, in short, is the risk. Not just to children and their parents, when the children come home from school, but also to the staff at the schools: the teachers, the administrators and the support staff. The White House consistently talks about the low risk to children but rarely mentions the risk to everyone else needed for schools to reopen.
What’s the solution? Precisely what those experts Kilmeade mentioned have been calling for. Reopening schools while the pandemic rages means, at the very least, implementing robust measures aimed at limiting the virus’s spread. NPR published a photo essay documenting what that looks like in Hong Kong: plastic barriers between students, frequent sanitation, social distancing.
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As the debate rages about whether schools should reopen, Hong Kong offers lessons in how to bring students back — and a stark reminder of how reopening can be followed by a decision to close again. Photographer Laurel Chor (@laurelchor) shows us how Hong Kong schools worked to reduce risks for returning pupils. 1. A student takes off her mask and sanitizes her hands before eating her snack. 2. When schools reopened this spring, students were given hand sanitizer upon arrival. 3. Lobo Ho, principal of Maryknoll Fathers' Secondary School, fills his office with toys and figurines so a visit to the principal won't be a negative experience. 4. For snack time, tables are socially distanced — and some have dividers. 5. PE during a pandemic could be a game of table football with plastic dividers between players. 6. Children get their temperature checked several times a day at Tsung Tsin Primary School and Kindergarten, Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong. 7. Primary school students attend recess at a distance from each other, with masks in place. 8. Kindergarten children eat their snacks behind plastic dividers at Tsung Tsin Primary School and Kindergarten. 9. Children line up along socially distanced dots on the ground to go to the bathroom at Tsung Tsin Primary School and Kindergarten.
And that's in a country where the spread of the virus is already nearly nonexistent. Not coincidentally.
In Orange County, where new cases are being detected at 30 times the per-population daily rate seen in the E.U., the school board voted Monday to allow local districts to reopen — without efforts as robust as those above.
“Among our greatest responsibilities as adults is our responsibility to model courage and persistence in the face of uncertainty and fear,” suggest recommendations approved by the board. It echoes comments from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who last week noted that “risk is embedded in everything we do,” from “learning to ride a bike, to the risk of getting in a space capsule and getting shot off in a rocket into space."
Kilmeade actually did mention the need to try to prevent new infections, it’s worth noting. But he did so as though it was a trivial consideration. “We find a way to do it,” he said. “Put protocols together."
Well, yeah. That’s the problem, isn’t it? In fact, the CDC put protocols together — fairly loose ones, heavily interlaced with some finger-crossing — and Trump rejected them as being too prohibitive. No one, including Trump’s opponents, is saying: “Keep schools closed indefinitely just because.” They’re saying instead: “Keep schools closed until they’re safe for students and for teachers.” That’s the problem. That’s the thing that needs to be solved, that thing Kilmeade just sort of shrugs at.
And that thing, too, is why the pandemic continues to be a political anchor for Trump. His insistence on simply trying to get back to normal despite the obvious risks of doing so is a central reason that the spread of the virus is as rampant as it is. It's therefore also why the issue isn't simply whether we unlock the doors to our schools.
Yes, there’s an effort to politicize school reopening in an attempt to reshape the November election. But it’s on the part of Trump and his allies.