Archives for category: Health

Governor Gregg Abbott has banned any mask mandates, despite the fact that cases and hospitalizations are soaring. What’s the matter with him?

Erica Grieder of the Houston Chronicle wonders about Governor Abbbott’s indifference. Does he want to prolong the pandemic?

She writes:

We all know that the Lone Star State has experienced some setbacks in dealing with this horrid plague, namely the emergence of the highly transmissible delta variant as the state grapples with lagging vaccination rates. On Wednesday, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis, more than 10,000 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported to the Department of State Health Services — the largest single-day jump since mid-February. And across Texas, 5,662 people were hospitalized.

And here comes Abbott, a Republican, bravely into the breach, responding by…imposing further limits on the capacity of local officials to take action in response to The governor on Thursday issued an executive order barring local governments from imposing mask mandates or the like, even in areas where COVID patients account for 15 percent of hospital capacity over the course of seven straight days. The order also reiterates that cities and counties can’t mandate vaccines, and it bars any public entity or recipient of taxpayer money from asking about a consumer’s vaccination status.

“The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott said in a written statement. “Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19.”

If that’s the case, why are hospitalizations on the rise?

Everyone knows how to end the pandemic: mandate vaccinations for everyone over the age of 2. When vaccines are available for children under 2, vaccinate them too. Almost everyone is vaccinated against other infectious diseases, like smallpox, mumps, and measles. Many schools will not admit new students who are unvaccinated. Why make an exception for the deadly coronavirus?

But for purely political reasons, this will not happen. Libertarians, Trumpers, and others will refuse to be vaccinated, insisting that the government can’t force them to protect themselves and the lives of their families, friends, and communities. Conspiracy theorists would spin crazy ideas about secret plots, and those opposed would go to court to prevent being vaccinated involuntarily.

And this resistance to life-saving vaccines will make it impossible to end the pandemic. At this point, most new cases and deaths occur among the unvaccinated. The anti-vaxxers will not accept direction. And they might be convinced if members of their families die. But there are ways to persuade them, like barring them from public transportation, federal jobs, and federal benefits

NYC Mayor De Blasio just approved a regulation requiring all 300,000 municipal workers, including teachers and police, to be vaccinated or to take a weekly test to prove they are not infected. WhY not require them all to be vaccinated?

Dr. Leana Wen wrote this opinion article for the Washington Post. She is a public health specialist.

With coronavirus infections climbing throughout the country and the pandemic worsening once more, the Biden administration needs to strongly urge a return of covid-19 restrictions.

The United States is on a very different trajectory now than it was back in May, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks. Even then, when cases were trending downward, many of us in public health were alarmed that the CDC’s recommendations would herald the precipitous and premature end of indoor mask mandates.

We were right. The CDC’s honor system didn’t work. The unvaccinated took off their masks, too; not enough people were vaccinated to be a backstop against further surges; and infections began to soar.

Compared with two weeks ago, daily coronavirus infections in the United States have climbed 145 percent. The most contagious form of SARS-CoV-2 yet, the delta variant, accounts for the majority of new infections. Vaccinated people are still well-protected from becoming severely ill, but reports abound of breakthrough infections. Because the CDC has inexplicably stopped tracking mild infections among the vaccinated, however, we don’t know how frequently these occur. In addition, because those infected with the delta variant appear to have a viral load that’s 1,000 times higher than that of those infected with the original strains, it’s an open question as to whether vaccinated people who contract the variant can infect their unvaccinated close contacts.

It’s time for the CDC to issue new guidance that takes into account these emerging concerns. It can reiterate that vaccination is safe and effective by stating that the vaccinated are safe around others who are also fully vaccinated. In settings where everyone is known to have immunity, no additional restrictions are needed.

However, if vaccinated individuals are around those who remain unvaccinated, the unvaccinated could pose a risk to the vaccinated, particularly those who live at home with young children or immunocompromised family members. So the CDC needs to state, as it should have in May, that unless there is a way to distinguish between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, indoor mask requirements should be reinstated. Los Angeles County has issued such a mandate. The federal government should urge other jurisdictions to follow suit.

This is particularly urgent in areas with escalating outbreaks. Covid-19 hospitalizations in southwest Missouri have already surpassed the winter peak there. Multiple hospitals in Arkansas are full, with doctors treating younger, and sicker, patients, including tweens. In these low-vaccination areas, the pre-vaccine tools of masks, distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings need to be deployed again to stem the surge.

Unfortunately, the areas with the lowest vaccination rates are also the ones least likely to implement mask mandates. Still, leadership from the Biden administration can make a difference. There are many businesses and local jurisdictions that look to the federal government for direction. Those that dropped mask mandates after the CDC’s change in tone could be convinced to reinstitute them.

The federal government could also use this opportunity to — finally — incentivize vaccination. It could say that areas with high vaccine uptake do not need to reimplement mask mandates, and mandate vaccination on planes and trains and in federal buildings. And it can finally get behind a vaccine verification system that would allow restaurants, gyms, workplaces and universities to create safe, maskless environments where everyone is vaccinated.

Lack of strong federal leadership impedes the ability of local jurisdictions to implement policies that protect their residents. In Los Angeles County, the sheriff stated that he would not enforce the new mask mandate, calling the order “not backed by science” because it conflicted with the CDC guidelines. This is a clear demonstration of how local health departments rely on the political cover provided by the CDC to enact unpopular but necessary actions.

A more cautious approach from the CDC would also realign the entity with leading health-care organizations. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations for schools that emphasized universal masking for everyone 2 and older. Notably, and in direct contradiction to the CDC, it stated that even vaccinated individuals should be masked in the classroom. These pediatricians recognize the reality on the ground: Without proof of vaccination, the unvaccinated have been behaving as if they were vaccinated, which has disincentivized them from getting inoculated and contributed to the surges we are now seeing.

The Biden administration has done many things right during the pandemic, but it made a grave error with its premature return to normalcy. It must hit reset and issue new guidance that addresses the escalating infections, waning interest in vaccination and unknowns of the delta variant. If it doesn’t, we could well be on our way to another national surge — and one that was entirely foreseen and entirely preventable.

Sean Hannity said on FOX last night:

MONOLOGUE OF THE NIGHT — Fox News host SEAN HANNITYurged his viewers Monday night to “please take Covid seriously. I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more death. Research like crazy. Talk to your doctor. … I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.” The clip

When will Tucker Carlson speak up? I bet he is already vaccinated. Like Hannity. They don’t want to die.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the top vaccination official in the Tennessee, was fired for encouraging teenagers to get vaccinated. She is a public health official who wants to save lives. Those who fired her thought she was alarmist, despite the deaths of 600,000 Americans who were infected with the coronavirus. Tennessee is a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.

The now-former immunization director for the Tennessee Department of Health had been facing scrutiny from Republican state lawmakers over her department’s outreach efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccinations among teenagers.

“Now there is a fundamental lack of ability to discern credible information in the state of Tennessee amongst our leaders as well,” Fiscus told WKRN. “They don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a Facebook meme and a peer-reviewed scientific journal publication.”

Dr. Fiscus told The Tennessean that she was fired Monday to appease lawmakers. She provided the newspaper with a copy of her termination letter, which does not explain the reasoning for her dismissal.

She also released a blistering statement accusing the “leaders” of the state of ignoring the dead and dying around them while turning their backs on doctors, scientists and other front line workers during the pandemic.

“I am ashamed of them,” she wrote. “I am afraid for my state. I am angry for the amazing people of the Tennessee Department of Health who have been mistreated by an uneducated public and leaders who have only their own interests in mind. And I am deeply saddened for the people of Tennessee, who will continue to become sick and die from this vaccine-preventable disease because they choose to listen to the nonsense spread by ignorant people.”

Dr. Fiscus told WKRN she was a scapegoat for a legislature bent on vaccine misinformation: “Our elected officials, many of them have really bought into this anti-vaccine propaganda that has been widely distributed, and they are not seeking the opinions of medical experts who understand these vaccines and understand this pandemic.”

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, but public health officials in Tennessee have been ordered not to acknowledge it.

The Port Washington Union Free School District on Long Island in New York wrote an excellent letter to their representatives in Congress. It is a model letter that should inspire other local and state school boards.

We are the officials entrusted with overseeing the education of over 5.300 students in the Port Washington Union Free School District in Nassau County, New York. We arc writing to urge that Congress act ‘immediately’ to enact legislation that will waive all testing mandates under the Every Child Succeeds Act for the 2020-2021 school year. This would include not only the grades 3-8 ELA and math assessments, but also the 4th and 8th grade science assessments, any ELA, math, and science assessments required at the middle and high school levels, as well as any English Language Learner assessments required, and alternative assessments.

The pandemic has caused our country’s children immense psychological harm and stress. Children arc best served by face-to-face interactions and connections with teachers. staff. and know students, in a school building setting. Our school buildings arc our children’s ccosystem, and for many, it’s their primary source of emotional and social sup, (not to mention food and nutrition and sometimes even clothing). Last March. all of that was taken from them. literally overnight. Sadly. to this very day. many schoolchildren nationwide. including in Ncw York Statc, have yet to rctum to in-person instruction, and even for those who have rcturned. in-person instruction is often not full time and is plagued by constant quarantines of both students and staff.

Safely reopening our schools during this pandemic and creating a fully virtual K-5 school required spending to the mine of over S3.7 million – a staggering amount for any local school district. Yet. even with this immense expenditure. only our elementary school kids arc attending school in person full time, and our secondary students arc still in a hybrid cnvironmcnt that is less than ideal. Additionally. we have the constant quarantines of classes and teachers that further stalls Teaming.

These federally-mandated tests constitute an unfunded mandate. Many districts, such as Port Washington, have already dipped into reserve funds in order to safely reopen our schools. Administering the ESSA assessments is an incredibly wasteful endeavor, and a breach of our fiduciary duty to our taxpayers. Every moment that a teacher has with our nation’s children should and must be spent on substantive learning while focusing on their social and emotional well-being. Our students arc living in crisis. The very last thing these children need is to be subjected to assessments. Congress must act now to enact legislation that will waive all testing mandates under the Every Student Succeeds Act for the 2020-2021 school year.

The nation’s two teachers’ unions joined together to issue an unusual joint statement that advises federal, state, and local leaders what must be done not only to revive education after the pandemic but to restart it with a fresh vision that focuses on the needs of children, not assumptions about their “learning loss” or “COVID slide.”

They introduce the document and its visionary proposals with these words:

Nation’s educators release shared agenda to ensure all students succeed Organizations offer proven ways to help students overcome Covid-19 opportunity gaps and meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs
 WASHINGTON, DC – Today the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s two largest educators’ unions, released a bold, shared agenda to ensure that all students receive the supports and resources they need to thrive now and in the future.  

Over the course of the last month, AFT and NEA have come together to define the essential elements needed to effectively understand and address the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted students’ academic, social, and developmental experiences. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to create the public schools all our students deserve,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “It is our mission to demand stronger public schools and more opportunities for all students- Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike. And we must support the whole learner through social, emotional and academic development. The ideas presented in this roadmap will lay the groundwork to build a better future for all of our students.” 

“COVID-19 has laid bare this country’s deep fissures and inequities and our children, our educators and our communities have endured an unprecedented year of frustration, pain and loss,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “As vaccine access and effectiveness suggest the end is in sight, it is incumbent on us to not only plan our recovery, but to reimagine public schooling so our children, families and educators can thrive.  

“The crises gripping our country are weighing heavily on young people, who are the future of our communities. That’s why our schools must, at a minimum, be supported and well-resourced to address our students their trauma, social-emotional, developmental and academic needs. This framework is an invaluable tool to help us get there,” Weingarten added. 

Shared with Sec. of Education Cardona last week, Learning Beyond Covid-19, A Vision for Thriving in Public Education offers the organizations’ ideas on ways our education systems can meet students where they are academically, socially, and emotionally.  The framework outlines five priorities that can serve as a guide for nurturing students’ learning now and beyond COVID-19 including learning, enrichment and reconnection for this summer and beyond; diagnosing student well-being and academic success; meeting the needs of our most underserved students; professional excellence for learning and growth; and an education system that centers equity and excellence. 

The full document can be found here

For immediate release

March 5, 2021

Media contact:

Anna Bakalis / 213-305-9654

91% YES: UTLA members overwhelmingly unite behind a safe return

LOS ANGELES — UTLA members have voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites. Over five days of voting March 1 through 5 conducted by Integrity Voting Systems, 24,580 ballots were cast, with 91% Yes ballots (22,480) and 9% No (2,100). 

“This vote signals that in these most trying times, our members will not accept a rushed return that would endanger the safety of educators, students, and families,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said.

The vote result means members remain committed to distance learning until the three safety criteria are met:

  • LA County is out of the purple tier
  • Staff are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination
  • Safety conditions are in place at our schools including PPE, physical distancing, improved ventilation, and daily cleaning

“Last March when educators first closed our classrooms and offices, we didn’t know that a year later we would still be physically separated from the students and communities we love,” Myart-Cruz said. “It has been a painful and difficult year for everyone. As much as educators long to be back to in-person instruction, it must be done safely for the sake of students, staff, and families. That has been our guiding principal from Day 1 of this pandemic.”

With COVID vaccines for school staff rolling out and infection rates decreasing, LA County is making progress toward the necessary conditions for a safe return, but we are not there yet. Some educators are having difficulty securing vaccination appointments, infection rates are still too high in many of the hard-hit communities we serve, and COVID variants could change the trajectory of the virus.

“With this vote, teachers are saying what I am hearing from parents in my community — it’s just not safe to physically return to schools yet,” said LAUSD parent and Reclaim Our Schools LA parent leader Alicia Baltazar. “I want to thank teachers for taking this stand and for all that you have been doing to educate my child during this pandemic.”

The overwhelming solidarity of the vote comes as legislators and Governor Newsom made last-minute changes to AB 86, the school reopening bill, redefining the COVID-19 tiers to try to push districts into returning to in-person instruction at levels that have been considered dangerous for close to a year.

LA continues to be the epicenter of the return-to-school debate, and the pressure on UTLA educators individually and collectively has been intense.

“Teaching in a pandemic is not easy. Standing up for students and our most marginalized communities is not easy. But our members continue to do both of these things, day in and day out because that’s our job,” Myart-Cruz said. 

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I am breaking my recent promise not to post articles that were previously published, but this is one of those rare exceptions to the rule, because it would not get the national audience it deserves without reposting it here. This article by Sandra Vohs, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, appeared originally in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, one of the few newspapers in Indiana and the nation that appreciates our public schools and their teachers.

Vohs writes:


These days, it’s impossible not to hear cries of “get kids back in school” and “we need to reopen schools.” These declarations certainly suggest that schools are closed.

In this era of alternative facts, there is some bizarre belief out there that, all over the nation, school leaders have decided just to skip this year, allowing teachers to take a long, paid vacation. Of course, that would mean students have a year of free time with no lessons to complete, no grades to earn and no chance of moving on to the next level next year.

I suppose that means that virtual school or remote learning will no longer be officially considered “school.” What does this mean for all the virtual schools that have been enrolling, teaching and graduating students for years?

Will all the students who have earned credits from virtual schools see their credits reversed and their diplomas voided?

Of course not.

Though arguably inferior to in-person classes, virtual school has been an educational option available to students for quite a while.

Educators from traditional, in-person, brick-and-mortar schools have long been cheerleaders for theirs as the best option for students – sensibly pointing to supporting research to back their claims.

For the vast majority of students, there is no equivalent alternative to the academic and social advantages offered by in-person classroom settings.

So, while virtual education is not the best option for most children, it is still a viable secondary option in circumstances where in-person learning is impractical or potentially unsafe.

It is worth pointing out that, until the COVID-19 pandemic, there weren’t a lot of supportive voices joining the proponents of in-person school over virtual education; tax dollars in multiple states were siphoned from traditional schools and diverted to online schools under the guise of supporting “school choice” initiatives.

Some of the very same voices shouting about the need to reopen schools that are currently virtual – as if virtual school isn’t really school – are the same voices that supported pre-pandemic virtual schools over traditional public schools in the first place.

So, to all the school districts that have had to instantly offer virtual instruction to students, compliments of the pandemic: thank you. Thank you for rushing to get resources and training to students, parents and teachers.

Thank you for finding creative ways to allow some students to return in person, from creating blended schedules of in-person and remote classes to finding unorthodox spaces for classrooms to allow for smaller class sizes and social distancing.

Thank you for implementing ever-changing public health recommendations from local, state and national health departments.

And thank you for offering virtual classes when in-person school posed too much of a risk to the adults and children of your communities.

Since public school funding isn’t consistent, even within individual states, some school districts have been able to be more proactive against the spread of the virus.

To those districts, thank you for upgrading ventilation systems (if you could afford it), adding buses and drivers (if you could afford it), bringing in trailers for additional classroom space (if you could afford it), hiring extra teachers to lower class sizes (if you could afford it), providing free masks and hand sanitizer (if you could afford it), providing free breakfasts and lunches for remote students (if you could afford it), supplying computers and internet connectivity to students (if you could afford it), and being able to provide the safest possible environment for the children you serve.

By far, the biggest thank you of all should be reserved for teachers, the boots-on-the-ground first responders to the educational consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers are working both in person and virtually, often at the same time.

They have been charged with mastering virtual technology that is only as good as the virtual framework supplied by their districts. They have had to become software experts and tech support for students and parents, all while implementing standards of best practices for remote learning in the lessons they design.

They are working nearly twice as many hours, typically for no additional pay, yet these are the teachers whom politicians and pundits often publicly disparage as “not wanting to work.”

Teachers who have returned to in-person classrooms have to implement and sustain pandemic protocols with children – cleanliness, social distancing, mask-wearing.

They have to modify their curriculum to adapt to those protocols (no group work, no shared supplies, etc.).

They risk exposure to COVID-19 every day; the safest and cleanest school buildings have no impact on what students are exposed to outside of school.

Teachers are being asked to risk their health, or the health of their loved ones, all while TV news and social media are full of ignorant vitriol claiming teachers just don’t want to work.

While some states have prioritized vaccinating teachers, others (such as Indiana) have not made vaccinating teachers a priority.

Teachers have been ensuring the continuation of school all year, both virtually and in person, yet they and their professional associations are routinely and publicly disrespected for their efforts.

The next time you hear anyone say students need to get back in school, or that schools need to reopen, please remember that schools are open and performing miraculous feats to keep public education available to all.

Sandra Vohs is president of the Fort Wayne Education Association.

The BBC reports that the British Psychological Society warns that policymakers should emphasize children’s well-being rather than “catching up” with academics. They are concerned that children are facing too much pressure as the adults make decisions about what to do next. All schools in England are expected to open by March 8.

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the BPS division of educational and child psychology, said it was “absolutely understandable” that parents are concerned children have “been missing out on many aspects of their formal education” – but warned against setting expectations too high.

“The notion that children need to catch up or are ‘behind’ at school due to the pandemic reinforces the idea that children have ‘one shot’ at their education and puts them under even more pressure to perform academically after what has been a challenging and unprecedented time for everyone,” he told the PA News agency.