Time to hit the brakes?

In order to safely reopen our schools, we may need to hit the brakes on our phased reopening of the economy in Massachusetts. The latest numbers are telling us that we may need to reclose some businesses or find other ways to reduce infection.

As we manage the reopening of the economy, we need to think more clearly about the trade-offs we are making and the consequences we are willing to accept.  The decision to open optional services like casinos, movie theaters, and health clubs may make it impossible for us to safely reopen our schools.

There is some guesswork in estimating how each specific business closure or infection control measure will affect the average rate at which people with COVID-19 transmit it to others. That transmission rate is referred to by the letter R. It is not possible to reliably estimate the R that will result from a particular level of economic opening.

But there is no guesswork in the consequences of different R values. If R is greater than one, then the epidemic will expand.  If it is less than one the epidemic will wane.  When COVID-19 was initially expanding, R was between two and three and the positive test count was doubling every few days.  By late April, the shut down had spread people out and reduced transmission opportunities, driving R below one.   As a consequence, the daily new case count began to drop and is now a tenth of what it was at the peak.

Yet, about a month ago, as a result of additional social transmission from reopening, R rose back to roughly 1.  Each infected person is now infecting roughly one other person.  We know this because the new case count has stopped dropping.  Over the last month, it has been fluctuating in the low hundreds (well above the levels in early March when alarms first went off).  Most recently, the new case count appears to be drifting up, even though the volume of testing has remained steady.

The fact that case counts are not dropping suggests that what we are doing now is just barely keeping a lid on the epidemic and that if we open up much more, R will rise above one and the epidemic will start growing again.  For all the imprecision about particular measures, the leveling off of the case count is sending a clear message:  We open further at our peril.

Yet we plan to open further.  We plan to receive thousands of college students back into the state, especially in the Boston and Northampton areas.  And we hope to at least partially reopen our elementary and secondary schools.  While safety precautions will help control transmission, it seems a stretch to imagine that transmission among students and from students into the community will not push our infection rate up substantially. 

Ideally, as we prepare for the fall and the added transmission that school opening (and generally increased contacts indoors as the weather changes) will bring, we would still be seeing falling case rates suggesting that our R value was below one.  That would tell us that we might have the capacity to add some additional social contacts without pushing our R above one.  But that is not where we are.  Currently we are embarking on the third phase of the Governor’s four phase reopening plan and R is already creeping above one.  

Moving back from Phase III to Phase II would mean closing casinos, fitness centers, health clubs, movie theaters, and museums. It would also mean delaying the arrival of college and university students on campus. Alternatively, maybe we should revisit elements of Phase II that may be contributing more to infection than some elements of Phase III.

Our elementary and secondary schools should be a high priority — for children and for working parents. We should demonstrate that we can get them functioning without driving our total transmission rate above one and then we should open less essential businesses and bring students back to our universities.

Massachusetts has done a good job in shutting down the economy to bend the rapidly rising COVID-19 curve, building up the health care system to avoid care shortages, and defining clear safety rules for each kind of business and institution as they reopen. But the numbers are now sending a message: We may be setting ourselves up for trouble in the fall. We could be on the cusp of making the same mistake that other states have made.

Each choice to reopen a category of business adds to the transmission rate. Let’s face up now to the fact that our transmission rate is creeping above one and reassess our plans. We need to make choices about what businesses and institutions should stay open in a way that reflects community priorities and acknowledges that there are trade-offs — we can only reopen so much of the economy without risking catastrophic resurgence of the disease.

Resources

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

Join the Conversation

169 Comments

  1. A couple points, the risk of transmission is lower for kids under ten. Re open daycare and grades K-5. Strongly support online learning for grades 6-12 at least until March.
    We need a mask mandate, not a recommendation. It should be enforced, though I don’t think it makes sense to apply to drivers without others in their car.
    The gym doesn’t seem as risky as some make it out to be, we need better science or explanation of why these businesses are considered risky. And reassessment needs to be done periodically.

  2. Hello Will,

    Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I agree that we should take steps now to bring R well below 1 as soon as possible. Failing to do so only ensures that the costs of doing so later will be even more painful. We have seen how that worked out in other states.

    I am in favor of more stringent enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing. And of closing high-risk businesses if needed. But I hope that simply rolling back policies is not the complete solution.

    For example, a pervasive system of testing with rapid results and test certificates could allow businesses to refuse access to infected people and facilitate isolation of infected people before they infect others. In China, citizens carry certificates on their phones and must show them to enter stores, offices, etc. This may seem un-American, but the cost of doing so would probably be very much lower than the cost of keeping so much of the economy out of action.

    I realize that we may not have all the testing technology needed yet, but it seems to me that this should be given high priority. We know a vaccine is still a long way off and may not be very effective if it is developed so other options must be pursued as well.

    Thank you for raising this issue and I encourage you and the government to act proactively to prevent greater pain in the future.

  3. Case count is not the best measure — it is too susceptible to fluctuations in testing patterns. Confirmed deaths seems much more dependable. And those do not seem to be going up. Here are the last ten days of confirmed deaths: 10, 11, 14, 16, 17, 11, 11, 13, 10, 13, 5. I don’t see much of a trend there — and the numbers are very low. If you believe, as many do, that the virus will be around for a while, those look like the numbers we will be seeing for some time. Maybe years.

    1. Death count is a lagging indicator of conditions 6-8 weeks ago.
      Hospital admissions is a lagging indicator of conditions 10-14 days ago.
      Testing gives a result within 24-36 hours. (Unless overloaded like Texas).

  4. I support a return to phase 2. We should prioritize opening schools safely and informing students about their status via Covid-19 testing. In this way, we can maintain an R less than one by isolating infected persons. Since Covid-19 inflicts lasting damage to a person’s physiology, infection needs to be detected early, followed by treatment.
    Massachusetts doctors, nurses, and researchers are to be complimented for their continued efforts in treating infected persons. Many improvements in detection (improved swabs developed at the Wyss Institute; large-scale testing performed at the Broad Institute) and treatment (ventilator designs at Smith College) have been fostered by the collaborative atmosphere of Massachusetts. Let us respect these efforts by adopting safe lifestyles (wearing masks) and being good neighbors.

  5. Why has no one mentioned the crowds of young people at the beaches the past few weekends . No masks, no social distancing
    Radio stations saying its a great beach day. Please stay at homr.

  6. Although there are no specific studies for the comparative benefits of wearing masks vs. a vaccine for COVID-19, there are for the seasonal flu. According to Dr. Bala, the deputy chief medical officer at the Arkansas Department of Health, if everyone wore masks, it would be almost as effective as a vaccine. A compelling argument in favor of masking up!

  7. Yes. Step back to phase 2. I also am not happy about sending my high schooler back to in-person school at this point.

  8. Do NOT punish OUTDOOR activities such as smart restaurants and beaches.
    The facts are this: superspreader events like close-in bars, choirs, casinos etc. are THE sources of spread. There is nearly zero spread from open, distanced outdoor activity. That’s the science. The BS about masks while walking / outdoors has to end. If you crush safe commerce with a blunt hammer, shutting down safe activities with clearly unsafe ones, you are acting very very irresponsibly as an agent of government.

  9. Pretty much support any reason to close the casinos. They are already a virus as it is, no need for them to be open to assist in the spread of Covid-19. Shut them down.

  10. Will, in the Belmont Cittizen Herald you captured the essence of COVID-19 : the level of virus hasn’t changed; our behavior has, and that has made the difference.

  11. in addition, we need to close beaches, ponds and lakes. People get a bit selfish and think they are the only one going swimming. How can people swim without wearing masks and after swimming, we are fooling ourselves thinking they are going to wear masks. People will not die from one summer of not swimming, going to beaches, going to mail salons, indoor restaurants, theaters, etc. However, people could die from getting infected from Corona 19. So, let’s stop opening and go back to phase 2 and maybe adopt very save steps on phase 3.

  12. I agree that we need to hit the brakes and rewind at least part way into Phase II. Casinos, gyms, indoor dining, and (sorry!) churches should all be closed again. If there is anything we can do now to make it possible for even some K-12 schools to reopen safely, that should be our top priority. We should also enforce the rules we already have in place better. Watertown has a masks-everywhere rule, but even the police aren’t following it, so who’s to enforce it?

    As a college professor, I am deeply concerned that bringing tens of thousands of students from all over the country back to MA in a few weeks is going to send our cases skyrocketing. The universities (like mine) that are still planning to reopen in person are so terrified of the financial consequences of doing otherwise that it may take state-level action to get them to change course.

  13. I am a public school teacher and I am terrified by the demand that the Commissioner of Education has made to get every child back in their buildings if possible. We have played fast and loose with distancing guidelines in order to fit as many kids in as possible, yet our reopening plans are not going to allow for any of the important social-emotional aspects of being back at school – students not moving from their rooms all day, students not being able to play with blocks or soccer balls, students being with the same other 15-20 students day in and day out unless you’re lucky enough to have PE that day. It’s a soulless, institutionalized approach to education, and if you have to take this many precautions to have something resembling safety, it isn’t safe.

    The focus is on the children but no mention is made of the hundreds of adults who need to be in a building in order for those children to be there: the classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, the cafeteria workers and the custodial staff, librarians, PE teachers, art teachers, music teachers, the front office staff. All of those people are capable of spreading this disease to each other. And the newest study out of South Korea, which appears to actually have a valid methodology instead of the appallingly bad, cherry-picked data used by the Department of Education to justify reopening fully, demonstrates that child-child transmission is possible, that child-adult transmission can be possible, and that children over the age of 10 can transmit just as effectively as adults. Add to that the new consensus that this disease is airborne but most schools have terrible HVAC systems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    And yet, not a peep from those in charge. Reading these words is the first glimmer of hope I’ve felt in weeks. Somebody gets it. Somebody sees the potential dangers in what we are proposing. It is misguided, dangerous hubris to think we will somehow escape the relapses seen in places like California.

    It is not safe to rush back to school. It is a twisted world we live in where, as a teacher, I have accepted that I may be shot to death at school and yet I return. I did not sign up for a potential lifetime of disabilities or death from a virus that is highly contagious and seemingly everywhere at once. The consequences of it can be devastating to children and teachers alike. We need to put the brakes both on reopening the state and on demanding schools return to normal ASAP.

  14. I can say I am not surprised. Even the most conscientious among us let go a bit this past weekend. Let’s just say a lot of people went to the beach. It was either that or sit next to a fan all day, which I can report as boring! So we will probably see a small tick up and that is probably how it will be until a vaccine is discovered. Of course, it could have been managed a hell of a lot better at the start but that ship has long sailed. Elections have consequences!

  15. We need to open the schools so working parents can go back to work. We can do it safely. We have vastly overreacted to this virus. The mortality rate is low. Children are seldom harmed from it and don’t infect others. No need for brakes. Learn to live and work with the problem.

  16. Will,

    Thanks for the simple, effective reminder about the science of this. Don’t understand why state won’t invest in real “life-guards”who would limit numbers on beach and send you home if no mask. Ditto for fresh pond walkway. Why let 5 to 10% who ignore basic safety ruin it for rest? Some enforcement is necessary…won’t take much. M-street beach pics in globe are scary. Simple math: no masks + crowding = more death. !! Strict capacity limits are good way to slow opening up just about anything. Use online Reservations at all sorts of venues…including museums, nature preserves etc to manage capacity and avoid long lines.

  17. I’m all in favor of rolling back some of what has opened, and agree with your suggestion of closing places in both Phase 2 & 3 where it makes sense. Gyms, indoor dining, movies, etc. We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy citizens. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and hard work!

  18. Thanks Senator Brownsberger. I really appreciate your points and your advocacy of a thoughtful and data-driven approach. We can either make small changes now or be forced to make big changes later down the road.

    How can we, as Massachusetts residents, best advocate for the points you outline? Is there any legislation that we should ask our legislators to sign on to, or is this process entirely driven by the Baker administration?

  19. It seems to me that people are focused on worrying about what could happen and worrying if what is happening in TX and FL will happen here. We still can’t predict the future. And if we look at the curves we are beyond any point of reasonable worry. So the unreasonable worriers are prevailing in the discussions. And our governor continues an illegitimate state of emergency in the face of a disaster which does not exist. The duck boats are running!

  20. If we knew where the positive tests were concentrated it would give epidemiologists a better picture of the venues, businesses and age group where cases are focused.
    Agree with leaning back on opening especially the universities. What harm one more semester of remote learning?… and not from the dorms, Harvard! That age group is a time bomb.
    Our youngsters are smart and will catch up if we keep them home a few more months…Massachusetts has a great education system already in place. The worry here of course is childcare for working parents. This is a huge challenge.

  21. Thanks for your support for keeping Massachusetts safe. The reopenings have given people the message the virus is gone. Mask wearing way down. Why is it not enforced. Construction crews, police with masks under their noses, parties in neighborhood, etc. It is just a matter of time before it surges and doesn’t creep. All the school opening plans are not original but expose teachers, students and parents. No creativity. All learning needs to be online and large venues should be used for children who need more structure. They can work online with distance, masks and oversight by non professionals and still get fed. Colleges should not allow kids to come to campus for online learning as the college kids I speak to all see it as a way to party. When did going to the gym or getting a haircut take a priority over public health and education? Thanks for your leadership.

  22. Will, I completely agree with your assessment. What would help you make the case? Do you need results from another survey? Letters to Gov Baker? Please let us know. Thanks for your voice of reason and ongoing leadership.

  23. Closing things down is one option. Testing the population is another. If we were to set up testing for everyone and do testing in batches of say, 100 (with individual follow up tests for those batches that test positive), we could identify and isolate those who are positive, as well as trace their immediate contacts. Testing could be done like flu clinics – locally, through boards of health. Yes, it would be a huge effort, but without widespread testing, we won’t know who is silently spreading the infection.

  24. Agreed, Will. Time to restrict more activities now so that we can reopen schools safely in the fall. Thank you.

  25. Please prioritize opening up schools safely and dial back on indoor activities with crowds, such as casinos, bars, movies, gyms. Apply all new information we have so that best practices are applied and required. And definitely provide financial supports for those suffering loss of income . Will, thank you for your services to our community. We all benefit from your commitment and intelligence.

  26. Yes, hit the brakes, at least–the mayor of Somerville is right, we don’t have the numbers to justify phase 3 reopenings.

    I also agree that we should close some of what has been reopened. I’d like to go sit at a sushi bar, or get a haircut, but those are trivial compared to reopening the elementary schools.

    I’m glad that it’s possible to have some in-person medical appointments–I took the opportunity to get a vaccine and have my sore wrist examined a couple of weeks ago.

    That’s a need. Education and social interaction for children is a need. Sitting in a restaurant, r even at an outside table, isn’t. Neither is live theater, browsing in a bookstore, or using the resistance machines at a health club (three non-trivial things I would be doing if there was no pandemic).

    Exaggerations aside, I wouldn’t kill for a meal out, or a new haircut, or the chance to try on shoes in person.

  27. I agree with you, Will. Thank you for this.
    The opening of casinos, fitness centers, health clubs, movie theaters, and museums, while we are trying to figure out how to safely get kids back to school (and parents back to work) seems somewhat asinine. Especially in view of the slow uptick of our Ro.

  28. Thank you for the thoughtful analysis. Please hit the brakes now, and reexamine which aspects of Phase II may have contributed to a resurgence before taking more drastic measures is no longer a choice.

    As we learn more daily about transmission, we need to consider some harsh truths before opening our schools:
    • We thought young and otherwise healthy adults were less susceptible until we learned that they weren’t.
    • We don’t know much about children under 10 as carriers. Putting children from multiple family units in proximity carries a certain risk to their families, teachers, administrators, and essential personnel who need to disinfect every surface they touch.
    • Physical structures were built to accommodate a maximum number of students without allowing for social distancing.

    What would be possible:
    Opening schools to a limited number of staff members who attest they have no symptoms, continuing to maintain logs for entry and exits. We could schedule staggered meetings for special ed. students who can’t reasonably learn virtually to meet in person at a distance.

    While far from ideal, that small start would allow for contact tracing.

  29. Thank you, Will, for sharing your thoughtful and
    sensible analysis. Like many others, I think that
    mask wearing and social distancing should be mandated rather than recommended and that re-
    opening policy should be determined by R value,
    ideally below, but certainly not above 1. I also think that school reopening should be a higher priority than reopening by business-category.

    That said, I think that school reopening should be guided by current research and best practices. Given the regional variation of covid-19
    cases, regional variation in school reopening poli-
    cies are to be expected. But local communities and the Commonwealth (and ideally the Feds) need to be prepared for the challenges and costs of creating safe and productive learning environ-
    mentos for all students, particularly those whose
    family resources can not fill in the gap. This will
    include identifying quiet and safe study spaces for
    those who have in the past counted on public li-
    braries. Schools will also need to think about how
    to compensate for the reduction of non-academic
    extracurricular and social opportunities so impor-
    tant to older students. Since some amount of on-
    line learning and non-classroom structure is likely
    to be necessary for some students in some areas,
    school administrators need to identify systematic
    creative approaches which do not assume that parents will function as teacher’s aides and provide appropriate educational space and resources.

    Business reopenings should be determined by
    the ability and commitment of the business to
    create a safe environment for clients and staff by
    ensuring social distancing (by regulating access)
    and requiring appropriately worn masks of both
    staff and clients. Applicants for reopening should
    be informed that compliance will be monitored and that permission is conditional and will be re-
    scinded if non-compliance is found. Since covid-19 is likely to challenge society for some time, bu-
    sinesses need to understand that it is in their eco- nomic self-interest to comply. Many grocery stores have gone to great lengths to create safe environments but some have not. As far as one can see, there have not been any consequences for non-compliance which is unfortunate because it sends the wrong message both to the business and to the clients. Many hair salons have also taken
    significant steps to create safe environments. I ex-
    pect that it might be possible for gyms to do so as well. Perhaps some inside dining might be possible at restaurants very committed to regulating access but others might decide that reopening might not be economically feasible under such stringent guidelines and not worth the hassle of turning large numbers of people away. The Boston area will need to find a way of ensuring that “open
    for business” does not disintegrate into long tight
    lines of people either waiting to pick up pizza or
    waiting for access to inside venues. This will be a
    real challenge when an influx of students eager for
    social time meets the needs of businesses desperate to stay afloat.

    I hope that the state will articulate an expecta-
    tion that its many educational institutions take
    responsibility for their students whatever their
    age or living situation. Many of these students will
    be coming to our state from areas whose citizens
    have been taken covid far less seriously than folks
    in this area. They will be returning to communities offering fewer social outlets than in the past. Not reopening bars will help but it will not be enough.

    Again, Will, thank you for representing us all so
    we.

  30. Mask wearing. Five days a week I walk 3.5 miles on a circuriteous route, Watertown-Newton-Allston-Watertown ie., Charles River, and encounter bicylists, runners and walkers, most wearing face masks. I just do not understand why the few do not; they seem to arrogantly pride themselves on what they are not doing. Of course, in any endeavor, there will always be that 10%, that when it’s “Greenside out,” there will be that 10% that will fall out with “Brownside out.” (An olde Marine Corps proverb 🙂

  31. I am curious if anything is being learned about transmission rates among kids at summer camp programs. And transmissions from kids to families. I believe they were allowed to reopen in Phase II though I assume most didn’t get going until the end of June so maybe it is too soon to tell? Presumably the summer camp experiences could inform the school safety strategies, if there is enough data.

  32. It is clear to me that we need to slow down the reopening process. Opening restaurants and bars is signalling to too many that it is ok to relax physical distancing, mask usage and other precautions. I have seen the queues of people waiting to get into bars in the seaport area – more than a few without masks and certainly not practicing physical distancing. The message needs to be loud and clear that this pandemic is far from over.

  33. As a physician at one of the local teaching hospitals, we have been dealing with COVID for months. The current dynamic in our area is nothing like March and April. Currently, testing is widespread and almost all of it is being done for situations such as pre-op, pre-procedure, hospital admission for other purposes and pre-travel screening. There is minimal influenza like illness in the region now and symptomatic respiratory illness is not the driver of positive tests. The small numbers of ongoing positives may be false positives, people at low risk of hospitalization or ongoing shedding of non-infectious viral particles. Furthermore, we have a good handle at our at risk populations (elderly, congregant settings like nursing homes etc …) and they are well defended now with better infection control procedures.

    Additionally, there was very little hospital based infection of health care workers. We are at the highest risk of any profession for COVID and we did not come down with it in droves, as we had good infection control practices in place to prevent infection. Furthermore, the majority of infections are due to household contacts, not casual and workplace interactions.

    To the extent this impacts reopening, social distancing, PPE, hand hygiene and avoiding mingling in large crowds of strangers can mitigate viral spread.

    The unemployment situation in our state is one of the worst in the nation and we had one of the worst death rates as well. We can start to baby step back into something resembling normal life and schools and gyms are a huge part of that. These can be operated safely if our hospitals were able to keep running without the majority of the staff getting COVID.

  34. Will, thanks for your concern for our collective welfare and careful thought on this issue. I’d like to suggest a slight shift of vantage point to help inform the many decisions about what to do.

    If this were a shooting war with other human beings, we would expect casualties and deaths, maybe a lot of them. That applies in this war against a microbial enemy. Thank god that the fatality rate for those infected is not very high, unlike for SARS or MERS or Ebola — we are not in the really desperate straits that could have been thrust on us if 20% of the infected died. Given this “low” lethality profile and how COVID is persistently, aggressively and sneakily spreading, I don’t think we should seek to absolutely minimize infections and deaths from COVID if the cost of that is economic and social self-destruction. Some number of COVID deaths and illness seems inevitable over the coming months and perhaps years – the cat is out of the bag.

    But how many is OK? I think the requirement for us to meet is keeping the healthcare delivery system robust and strong both now and for the long haul – not exceeding the facilities’ capacity for optimal treatment of both COVID AND non-COVID illnesses, not burning out our providers and staff, not running out of medicines, supplies and equipment. Eventually – again, perhaps in years – we will have a combination of treatment regimens, prevention tools like vaccines and updated ventilation and air purification practices, and possibly acquisition of herd immunity (though that seems very slow in coming). It will then make sense to aim at zero new infections as the most important measure of success.

    Until then, I am in favor of “opening up” just as far as the healthcare system status allows, and to allow the illness and fatalities that result from that in order not to destroy all the other public goods involved (education of children, the everyday fabric of human society, individual economic wellbeing and the economy as a whole). That point is clearly far short of opening wide up, but will be looser than an approach trying primarily to minimize infections.

    Due to the lag time between infection and going into treatment if serious illness results, this will be challenging to manage without swings that leave the system a little over- or under-utilized at any point in time, but that’s the skill we as a society – government, healthcare, businesses, individuals – will need to develop. And of course the public must be persuaded / required to implement the many preventive practices that help minimize infection and illness while more people are out and about. Thoughtfully and strategically setting priorities for deciding what to open will remain a key activity.

    I think it is a mistake to imply in our measurements, briefings, and news coverage that the lowest possible number of infections is the right goal regardless of what it costs in terms of economic and social damage. The virus is in charge, not us, and we don’t know how the biological part of this story is going to evolve or end. I believe the government is obligated to take reasonable steps to ensure our entire society survives, and accept that there will be some deaths. It is unwise to severely impair our society now and in the future, placing an incredible burden on our children and grandchildren, in an effort to prevent every single death now. As you know, we haven’t shut down society for influenza which returns every year and kills many thousands; we have actually accepted the fact we can’t fully control it.

    So closely monitor the healthcare delivery system status – if it has significant unused capacity to treat those who become ill, we can allow more activity to resume, even though more infections and deaths will result. When it approaches maximum utilization, clamp down in a measured but decisive manner, and clamp down as far as is needed to restore acceptable healthcare delivery system status.

    There is so much more to say on this critical topic – I’ll just end with my thanks for your thoughtful engagement on this issue Will.

    1. Thanks, David.

      If we could have a low steady state of infections, that might be acceptable. But my concern is that we may end up with a growing rate of infections on the course we are on. This will result in a whip-saw reclosure of the economy.

  35. Thanks for this, Will. I agree with you. Massachusetts did a great job from mid-March through the end of June, reducing the spread of Covid19. I was hoping that the state would work to reduce the infections levels to the lowest level possible in anticipation of the fall and the winter, when we will have less control and fewer options. The governor promised that the state would follow the numbers closely and respond accordingly. Now, I think, is the time to rethink reopening before that R of 1.07 is an R of 1.2.

  36. Going back to school has been successfully carried out in Taiwan, with only 2 weeks off. The government was prepared with masks and a strict method to deal with even one case in a class. Please watch this video from RTI Taiwan for measures on how students protected themselves and ideas on what could be adopted in MA.
    https://youtu.be/yNPZgmT_meE

  37. I am a public school teacher and I am terrified by the demand that the Commissioner of Education has made to get every child back in their buildings if possible. We have played fast and loose with distancing guidelines in order to fit as many kids in as possible, yet our reopening plans are not going to allow for any of the important social-emotional aspects of being back at school – students not moving from their rooms all day, students not being able to play with blocks or soccer balls, students being with the same other 15-20 students day in and day out unless you’re lucky enough to have PE that day. It’s a soulless, institutionalized approach to education, and if you have to take this many precautions to have something resembling safety, it isn’t safe.

    The focus is on the children but no mention is made of the hundreds of adults who need to be in a building in order for those children to be there: the classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, the cafeteria workers and the custodial staff, librarians, PE teachers, art teachers, music teachers, the front office staff. All of those people are capable of spreading this disease to each other. And the newest study out of South Korea, which appears to actually have a valid methodology instead of the appallingly bad, cherry-picked data used by the Department of Education to justify reopening fully, demonstrates that child-child transmission is possible, that child-adult transmission can be possible, and that children over the age of 10 can transmit just as effectively as adults. Add to that the new consensus that this disease is airborne but most schools have terrible HVAC systems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    And yet, not a peep from those in charge. Reading these words is the first glimmer of hope I’ve felt in weeks. Somebody gets it. Somebody sees the potential dangers in what we are proposing. It is misguided, dangerous hubris to think we will somehow escape the relapses seen in places like California.

    It is not safe to rush back to school. It is a twisted world we live in where, as a teacher, I have accepted that I may be shot to death at school and yet I return. I did not sign up for a potential lifetime of disabilities or death from a virus that is highly contagious and seemingly everywhere at once. The consequences of it can be devastating to children and teachers alike. We need to put the brakes both on reopening the state and on demanding schools return to normal ASAP.

  38. The fact that R>1 is worrying, since surely it will increase when schools reopen, and if R gets too large we will have to shut down again to avoid overloading the hospitals. However, there are a lot of different options for reducing R, each with different costs. Shutting things down is extremely expensive to the businesses shut down and the employees laid off, in most cases it is not the cheapest way to reduce R. Shutting schools down is bad for student learning and also hurts the economy. We should try other options. It would be very cheap to provide everyone in the Commonwealth with N95 masks so they could protect themselves more effectively, maybe better masks would be enough to knock R down by a factor of 2. It might be affordable to do serious large-scale COVID testing with pooling (now allowed by FDA), followed by strong contact tracing/quarantines for those testing positive and their contacts, to try to suppress some of the many undetected COVID infections that are sustaining our outbreak, this could significantly reduce R. But for this strategy to work the Commonwealth would have to commit to buying a huge number of tests, so the lab companies would buy more test processing equipment and be ready to provide quick turn around on hundreds of thousands of tests. (Because only ~0.1% of the population is infectious at any moment, one needs to test 100,000 people/day to detect 100 cases per day, the minimum needed to materially affect R.) Probably relatively cheap fast do-at-home COVID tests will become available by end of 2020, well before vaccine is widely available. A legislative priority should be to figure out what the rules will be when these fast tests become available – do you have to test yourself the day of travel to ride an airplane? to ride the T? to come into a school building? Can an employer require employee to take the test before coming to work? Do barbers and massage therapists and nursing home workers need to test themselves each day? Will the state pay to test everyone in the Commonwealth twice about 5 days apart, and so make it possible to detect almost every infection and almost eradicate the virus? The Governor only has limited ability to spend the kind of money needed for large-scale testing or even N95 masks for everyone, and he is not in a good position to decide the associated civil rights/professional certification issues. It would be great if the Legislature could at least discuss these issues to be ready for quick votes if funds are required.

  39. Why not create phases to re-start in person schooling the same way that businesses were phased back in?
    Phase 1: Young children (preschool through second grade) should be the priority as they cannot stay home by themselves when parents go to work and struggled to engage in digital learning tasks. These students traditionally have one homeroom teacher they remain with for the whole school day so the ‘bubbles’ can be kept small. All other leaners could continue with digital learning at home, and the classrooms once used for those students could be utilized to spread out the little ones. This phase could also allow for students with IEP services to return to schools so that they could receive services and/or the support of an aide to complete their digital learning.
    Phase 2: If the first round proves successful, you could start to reintroduce more students back to in-person instruction. You could begin to allow all elementary students who have a single homeroom teacher to restart in person instruction.
    Phase 3: Middle and high school students could return for one day of instruction focused on a single subject (i.e. english or math). The tricky think with departmentalized learning is that kids switch and swap classrooms and cohorts for each subject and it is difficult to maintain small bubbles. If these students came for one full day of english instruction, then spent the other four days continuing digital learning, they would benefit from the social interactions, but also benefit from the safety on minimizing the number of humans they come into contact with. Perhaps half of the day is focused on the single subject in person instruction, and the other half of the day they remain in the building but work on their digital learning (with support and encouragement from the adult in the room).

  40. Dear Senator,
    Thank you for this crucial question. Yes. With the virus cases increasing exponentially in most states, over 4 million cases in the U.S. and nearly 150,00 deaths, it is a stark reality that the virus is with us and that opening as the country has in July is proof. This is July 22 map of our state showing the towns with the highest positivity rates in the previous 2 weeks (updated weekly): https://www.wcvb.com/article/massachusetts-covid-19-town-by-town-positivity-data-july-15-2020/33328295
    Data from the 1918 pandemic shows that the states that shut down had a fraction of the virus cases. The deadliest month was October.
    Epidemiologists, medical professionals, and scientists say they are still learning about Covid-19. What is known is how infectious and deadly it is.
    Educators have said that there is a loss with learning outside of the classroom and online classes but they have also said that the loss of a student’s or teacher’s life would not be worth what is gained in opening schools.
    My sister-in-law is an intensive care nurse who has been treating Covid cases in a Cape Cod hospital. She had the virus in May, along with 11 of her colleagues in the ICU, and many hospital staff. After quarantine, she was back to work in 2 weeks. She has 2 teenage children and a husband. America’s front line workers are dying. A recent article from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News reports that in some states, they account for 20 percent of deaths.
    Our livelihoods and economy are essential but our health but our very LIVES are even more so! The sick and dead cannot work or shop.
    I’m glad to live in our state that takes public health, medicine, and science seriously and where we have leadership. Every effort to continue it is essential in this new world.

  41. I do not know how bad the situation has to become, or how much evidence there has to be, or how close to home (or to one or more loved ones) the virus has to strike before the millions of Americans who seem to be being referenced in an analysis of attitudes in the US I have read with the title “Americans want to be free to be stupid”, will finally recognize the nature and seriousness of the threat we are confronting. The combination of conflicting and incomplete advice, restrictions that are a patchwork of the mandatory and advisory, and a frightening absence of competence linked to a callous disregard at the highest levels of our Federal Government for the welfare and health of other people do not bode well for the prospects of this country in the coming months and years. Restrictions and rules applicable to the different several environments within which we would like to live our lives, productively in some cases and enjoyably in others, will be insufficient on their own, until and unless they are accompanied by a much wider and more profound recognition and willingness among the population to act with care and attention to the wellbeing of others, instead of an overwrought emphasis on an individual’s freedom to act however he or she feels like acting, regardless of the foreseeable consequences (“Live Free And Die”, not “Live Free Or Die”). Freedom to play Russian roulette may be defensible, but not freedom to put the revolver with a bullet in at least one chamber against someone else’s head, and then spin the chamber and press the trigger.

    I see no prospect for the implementation of a sensible nationwide program to control the pandemic, modulated to take account of local conditions, as long as the current President is in office. He is being aided and abetted by formidable instruments of power in the hands of complicit individuals who appear to have abandoned whatever soul they may have been born with, or whatever feelings of empathy they may once have experienced, or whatever powers of rational analysis and reasoning they may have exercised in the past.

    Ultimately there must be a coordinated national effort, because in this battle the lowest common denominator wins because it can corrupt or infect the rest. And the lowest denominator in the US has been sinking very low indeed. Probably it has not yet even reached the bottom. Meanwhile Massachusetts must do whatever is in its power, working with like-minded States. Necessary steps probably include slowing down or even reversing some reopening initiatives, in the hope (which may be the most important preventive measure Americans can take in the next few months, namely voting, an even greater imperative than wearing masks and distancing) so that we will be able to start to protect and help ourselves and our fellow citizens and residents throughout the country more effectively and respectfully after January 20, 2021.

  42. I really appreciate your analysis. As the spouse of a public school teacher, the rising RO now 1.11, is scary. We must start rolling back parts of phase 3 immediately.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *