Archives for category: Science

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

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, is a dogged researcher who uncovers the mysteries of privatization and the education industry. In this post, he responds to a parent who asked him about an organization that was providing free airfare for her school district’s leaders. He was on the case.

He begins:

A North Carolina resident asked “what do you know about the Urban Collaborative?” She was concerned about a company providing free airfare to school leaders in her child’s district; airfare to meetings in far-off cities. She wondered, “What is their motive? Is it more about money and power than special education?”

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative was founded by Dr. David Riley, Educational Co-Chair of the Summer Institute on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Riley was the Executive Director of the Collaborative until he succumbed to cancerMay 2, 2016. The Collaborative is a national network of education administrators responsible for youth with disabilities in urban school districts. It is a national version of the Massachusetts Urban Project, a state-wide network that Dr. Riley founded in 1979. In 1994, The Education Development Center (EDC) expanded the Urban Collaborative into a national organization.

Ultican then goes on to describe the history of the organizations and their collaborations with a foray into changes in the physics curriculum.

EDC once had noble ambitions and accomplishments:

In the early years, the EDC was an organization making liberal ideology a reality. They developed a science curriculum specifically for the realities of Africa. They led a consortium of U.S. universities in founding the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. The EDC produced educational TV shows noteworthy for their African American and Latino casts. They engaged in educating village health workers in Mali.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, EDC seems to have become distracted by power and money while it dove into education technology.

And then, oh my, money and power begin to change things.

He concludes:

The relationships that Urban Collaborative fosters and the curricular development activities at EDC may have value. But sadly, these organizations have been corrupted by billionaire dollars and the lust for national prominence. They have lost their focus on improving public education and have become power players in the world of corporate education reform.

John Thompson writes below about the ongoing confusion about whether it is safe to reopen schools. Trump and DeVos demanded that schools reopen without the resources to reopen safely. Now, the debate continues, with a mixture of science, hope, and fear. I am not a public health expert, and I offer no advice. But common sense suggests that teachers should be vaccinated first, along with other essential workers. Teaching in a room with a large group of students all day long, it seems to me, is materially different than shopping in a store where one enters and leaves within 15-20 minutes. If we expect teachers to be frontline workers, they should get the vaccinations and PPE equipment they need.

He writes:

Today we’re in a situation in regard to reopening schools that is similar and different to that of the first six months of the Covid pandemic. Then, it seemed likely that schools could reopen by the fall semester as long as we respected public health evidence, and set smart priorities, such as reopening schools not bars. But Trump and his acolytes politicized the pandemic, even leading the way to super-spreadings by holding crowded political and motorcycle rallies, as well as pushing the premature reopenings of indoor dining and partying.

I’m afraid, however, that we’re also in a situation similar to last November when it should have been obvious that the holidays were coming, bringing super-spreads. Rarely do we face school reopening issues that lead to obvious conclusions. However, it would have been crazy to reopen schools as Thanksgiving approached, prompting the surge which would feed the super-surges of Christmas and New Years. Even so, true believers in the claim that educators were being too cautious often continued to ramp up the blame game. In “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong” (Nov 18), Nick Kristof criticized Democrats for failing to learn from Europeans who had safely kept their schools open.

Ironically, Kristof’s editorial was published 6 days after Spiegel International’s “Reevaluating Children’s Role in the Pandemic.” It explained in great detail that “a large study from Austria shows that SARS-CoV-2 infects just as many schoolchildren as it does teachers. Other surveys indicate that while young children may show no symptoms, they are quite efficient at spreading the virus.”  

Spiegel explained, “‘Schools are not islands of serenity,’ says study leader Michael Wagner, a professor of microbiology at the University of Vienna. Leaving them open is ‘a significant risk.’” Moreover, “‘Children reflect the infection levels they are surrounded by,’ says microbiologist Wagner. But because they are so often asymptomatic, they are ‘severely undertested,’ leading him to believe that there are a rather significant number of unreported cases.”

In fairness, even if Kristof had read about and contemplated the new situation in Europe, he could not have known that it would foreshadow the most important pandemic challenge we face today. But he no longer has an excuse for sticking with his simplistic attacks on teachers.

As the super-spread that took off in November subsides, and given the fact that President Biden has replaced Trump, it could be argued that we should be able to safely reopen schools over the next 100 days. As was true in the summer and the fall, new scientific research keeps producing evidence that schools can operate safely in person, especially in places where masking, social distancing, and public health guidelines are respected when dealing with community transmissions. Recent studies documented successes in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and European schools. Research keeps confirming that schools for the youngest children are the least likely to spread the virus. And a recent JAMA study concludes “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

On the other hand, the path JAMA describes toward “return primarily or fully to in-person instructional delivery” also requires “steps to reduce community transmission and limiting school-related activities such as indoor sports practice or competition that could increase transmission risk.” For instance, it cites a recent wrestling tournament where, “Among the 130 tournament participants, 38 (30%) had laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosed, but less than half the participants were tested. At least 446 contacts of these cases have been identified.” These and secondary transmissions are still being studied.

Sadly, we’re also seeing a repeat of the politicization of public health which contributed so much to the super-spreads that made it impossible for so many urban districts to reopen in the fall. One of the worst examples is Derek Thompson’s article published online with the title, “Open Schools, Already.” Thompson began with an oversimplified characterization of the Center for Disease Control’s call to reopen schools “as soon as possible,” and asserted, “the CDC seems to be shouting: Enough! To which, I would add: What took you so long”?

I always follow the links in these reports, and almost always I find a story more complicated than anticipated. But, these reports tend to start with the conclusion about whether schools can reopen safely, followed by a number of disclaimers and warnings. Thompson turned out to be one of the most extreme examples of a respected reporter misrepresenting the complexities documented in the sources he cited. 

Rather than get into the weeds of methodology, before addressing Thompson’s misleading arguments, I’ll just mention a few more differences between today’s questions and those of the summer and fall. New research estimates that 59 percent of transmissions, not 35 percent as previously estimated, are by asymptomatic persons. Moreover, we now have evidence that teens are more likely to spread the virus than originally thought. And a new study of infections in Florida and China shows that children may be more likely to be asymptomatic, and they may be 60% more likely than adults over 60 to spread the infection. 

These findings, combined with the lack of testing and contact tracing in many places, call into question the previously understandable conclusions by some that schools aren’t major contributors to community transmission.

Also, there are new reasons to worry about the unknown, but potentially serious, harm done by Covid to asymptomatic persons.   

Getting back to Thompson’s article as a case study in misrepresenting complex science, North Carolina and Wisconsin offer just two of many examples of studies of small samples of committed school systems that are not representative of many other districts. In “Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools,” Duke University researchers found that infections were rare in “35 North Carolina schools that offered in-person teaching for at least some of the 9 weeks, with only 17 staying open to students for the entire quarter.” 

The researchers acknowledged that the sample of schools “may select for school districts that enforce adherence to preventative measures, emphasize transparency, and cooperate with peers.” These characteristics “are likely associated with greater adherence to masking, reduced secondary transmission, and lower risks.” And, when two districts faced reduced compliance with masking and distancing, a nonprofit stepped in to reinforce those policies.

In response to my questions on methodology, co-author Daniel Benjamin volunteered that the key to success:

Is that there is 99% mask compliance for every person in the mainstream curriculum that steps on school property. It’s the mitigation strategies—distancing, masking, hand hygiene that are crucially important. If a school district does not do these things, they will likely make the pandemic worse by being open. This is why we don’t advise “you should open” or “you should go remote”…. It’s all about the public health measures.

And while we’re reading more optimistic reports by reliable researchers like JAMA and the CDC, let’s not forget their qualifying statements, such as the CDC’s summary of Wisconsin infections from Sept 3 to Nov16. Schools were the 4th largest source of infections, following long term care and corrections facilities, and colleges; an estimated 14% of infections were linked to schools.

These are just a few of the new pieces of evidence that schools may not be super-spreaders, but they are spreaders. But, how fast do we want to reopen those spreaders as the virus variant comes to the United States? The New York Times cites the CDC and other institutions that predict the more contagious U.K. variant will be predominant by March. If so, will it make sense to not reclose the schools that contribute to spread, even if they don’t drive the increase in infections?  

The reopening of schools in 100 days is a reasonable goal, but decisions on the pace of reopenings and when it is necessary to reclose schools, should not be politicized. My sense, however, is that more of the press, and public health and education advocates are now discussing politics more, and complicated science relatively less. For instance, there has been a steady increase in charter school advocates implicitly or explicitly blaming shutdowns on unions. Robert Pondiscio’s “How Anger Over Covid Closures Can Fuel the School Choice Movement” is just one recent example.

At the same time, more journalists are focusing on the differences between statements by some of Biden’s public health experts, and his apparently more balanced approach, as well that of teachers and unions, than the nuances of medical science conclusions. Moreover,, the Washington Post explains, “CDC researchers looked to Europe’s experience in the fall to inform their conclusion that ‘there has been (emphasis mine) little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.’”

But new research from Europe leads towards a new conclusion, articulated by Celso Cunha, director of the medical microbiology unit at Nova University of Lisbon’s Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, “By themselves, schools are not the main problem, but it makes sense to close them when the numbers are so high that anything can have an impact on the health system as a whole,” 

The Wall Street Journal also reports:

A consensus is emerging in Europe that children are a considerable factor in the spread of Covid-19—and more countries are shutting schools for the first time since the spring.

Closures have been announced recently in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands on concerns about a more infectious variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. and rising case counts despite lockdowns. …

The Journal quoted the director of the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health, “In the second wave we acquired much more evidence that schoolchildren are almost equally, if not more infected by SARS-CoV-2 than others.”

And as Spiegel reported in November, Europeans have had to ask, “Might children, in fact, be mini-superspreaders running around without so much as a sore throat as they pass the virus on to classmates, parents and siblings?”

I sure can’t anticipate the answer to that question, but unless we can discuss it in a non-ideological manner, we might fail at both the reopening of schools within 100 days, and contribute to a resurgence of Covid. 

I am getting dizzy from the whipsawing of information and advice about whether, when, and how schools should reopen. They were open in Europe, and we envied Europe; then they were closed in Europe. Schools open, then close, then open again. I am not a scientist so I offer no advice. The scientists agree that schools can open safely if they observe the medical protocols. If I were a teacher, I would want to be vaccinated first, but that is not what the scientists say here. Teachers are in an enclosed space with students most of the day; they are essential workers. Why not prioritize them for vaccination?

This story appeared in the New York Times:

Many of the common preconditions to opening schools — including vaccines for teachers or students, and low rates of infection in the community — are not necessary to safely teach children in person, a consensus of pediatric infectious disease experts said in a new survey.

Instead, the 175 experts — mostly pediatricians focused on public health — largely agreed that it was safe enough for schools to be open to elementary students for full-time and in-person instruction now. Some said that was true even in communities where Covid-19 infections were widespread, as long as basic safety measures were taken. Most important, they said, were universal masking, physical distancing, adequate ventilation and avoidance of large group activities.

The experts were surveyed by The New York Times in the last week. Depending on various metrics, between 48 percent and 72 percent say the extent of virus spread in a community is not an important indicator of whether schools should be open, even though many districts still rely on those metrics. Schools should close only when there are Covid-19 cases in the school itself, most said.

“There is no situation in which schools can’t be open unless they have evidence of in-school transmission,” said Dr. David Rosen, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University in St. Louis.

The risks of being out of school were far greater, many of the experts said. “The mental health crisis caused by school closing will be a worse pandemic than Covid,” said Dr. Uzma Hasan, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at RWJBarnabas Health in New Jersey.

For the most part, these responses match current federal guidance, which does not mention vaccines, and reflect significant scientific evidence that schools are not a major source of spread for children or adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release new recommendations Friday on how schools can safely operate, and the Biden administration has prioritized opening schools.

But the expert consensus in the survey is at odds with the position of certain policymakers, school administrators, parent groups and teachers’ unions. Some in these groups have indicated that they do not want to return to school buildings even next fall, when it’s likely that teachers will be able to be vaccinated, though not most students. Some districts have faced fierce resistance to reopening, particularly in large cities, where teachers have threatened to strike if they are called back to school buildings.

A return to in-person school this week in Chicago, where disagreement between elected officials and the teachers’ union over reopening has been particularly intense.
A return to in-person school this week in Chicago, where disagreement between elected officials and the teachers’ union over reopening has been particularly intense.Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

And some experts concurred that open schools pose risks, particularly to the adults working there, and said that many parts of the country had not yet controlled the virus enough to safely open.

“Just because school opening isn’t causing higher levels of community transmission doesn’t mean that there isn’t individual risk to teachers and staff,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and a visiting professor of health policy at George Washington University. “If we had wanted schools to safely reopen, we should have worked hard as a society to keep transmission rates down and to invest resources in schools.”

About half of the nation’s students are still learning from home, and while a majority of districts are offering at least some in-person learning and more are trying to reopen this spring, many are offering students just a few hours a day or a few days a week.

The mismatch between the experts’ preferred policies and the rules governing school opening in many districts reflects political considerations and union demands, but also changes in scientists’ understanding of the virus. Many school policies were developed months ago, before growing evidence that Covid-19 does not spread easily in schools that adopt basic safety precautions. The guidance could change again, they cautioned: Nearly all expressed some concern that new coronavirus variants could disrupt schools’ plans to be open this spring or fall.

More than two-thirds of the respondents said they had school-aged children, and half had children in school at least some of the time. Over all, they were more likely than not to support their own schools being open. About 85 percent of those in communities where schools were open full time said their district had made the right call, while just one-third of those in places where schools were still closed said that had been the right choice.

The point of most agreement was requiring masks for everyone. All the respondents said it was important, and many said it was a simple solution that made the need for other preconditions to opening less essential.

“What works in health care, masks, will work in schools,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, a professor and the division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Washington. “Kids are good at wearing masks!”

Half the panel said a complete return to school with no precautions — no masks, full classrooms and all activities restored — would require that all adults and children in the community have access to vaccination. (Vaccines haven’t been tested yet in children and most likely won’t be available until 2022.)

But not everyone agreed that younger children needed to be vaccinated to return to pre-pandemic school life. One-fifth said a full reopening without precautions could happen once adults in the community and high school students were vaccinated, and 12 percent said it could happen once vaccines were available to all adults in the community.

The experts also questioned another strategy used by many districts that are open or plan to open this spring: opening part time, for small and fixed cohorts of students who attend on alternating schedules to decrease class size and maximize distance between people. Only one-third said it was very important for schools to do this, though three-quarters said students should be six feet from one another some or all of the time. Three-quarters said schools should avoid crowds, like in hallways or cafeterias.

Limiting time in school increased other risks, some said, like impeding children’s social development, disrupting family routines and increasing the chance of children’s exposure to a bigger group of people out of school.

The experts expressed deep concern about other risks to students of staying home, including depression, hunger, anxiety, isolation and learning loss.

“Children’s learning and emotional and, in some cases, physical health is being severely impacted by being out of school,” said Dr. Lisa Abuogi, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the University of Colorado, expressing her personal view. “I spend part of my clinical time in the E.R., and the amount of mental distress we are seeing in children related to schools is off the charts.”

The survey respondents came from the membership lists of three groups: the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, the Decision Sciences for Child Health Collaborative and the American Academy of Pediatrics subspecialty group on epidemiology, public health and evidence. Some individual scientists also responded. Nearly all were physicians, and more than a quarter of them had degrees in epidemiology or public health as well. Most worked in academia and about a quarter in clinical settings, and most said their daily work was closely related to the pandemic.

Though their expertise is in children’s health, they cited evidence that with masks and other precautions, in-school transmission was very low, including from children to adults.

“I completely understand teachers’ and other school employees’ fear about returning to school, but there are now many well-conducted scientific studies showing that it is safe for schools to reopen with appropriate precautions, even without vaccination,” said Dr. Rebecca Same, an assistant professor in pediatric infectious disease at Washington University in St. Louis. “They are much more likely to get infected from the outside community and from family members than from school contacts.”

The survey asked experts about various strategies that schools are using to keep students and staff safe. The experts said many such measures would have some merit, but identified two as most important: mask wearing and distancing.

Other widely adopted measures — like frequent disinfection of buildings and surfaces, temperature checks or the use of plexiglass dividers — were viewed as less important. One-quarter said routine surveillance testing of students and staff was very important for schools to open.

“Masks are key,” Dr. Noble said. “Other interventions create a false sense of assurance.”

Many states have tied openings to measures of community spread in the school’s county, like test positivity rates, the rate of new infections or the rate of hospitalizations. But 80 percent of the experts said school districts should not base reopening decisions on infection data in the county at large; they should focus on virus cases inside the school.

Many districts have opened or are considering opening for younger students before older ones. Research has found that for children around adolescence, infection and spread become more similar to that of adults. The Biden administration has shaped its reopening plans around students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Just over half of pediatric infectious disease experts said fifth grade should be the cutoff, if schools are partly opened. Just 17 percent said eighth grade should be. But despite high school students’ greater risk, many lamented the long-term effects of a year of extreme isolation on teenagers.

Although these experts specialized in children’s physical health, many concluded that the risks to mental health, social skills and education outweighed the risks of the virus. Students’ future opportunities, said Dr. Susan Lipton, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, are “torpedoed without the best academics, interaction with inspiring teachers who become mentors, clubs, sports and other ways to shine.”

“This is devastating a generation,” she said.Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges, Scientists SayOct. 22, 2020How 700 Epidemiologists Are Living Now, and What They Think Is NextDec. 4, 2020Monitoring the Coronavirus Outbreak in Metro Areas Across the U.S.

Claire Cain Miller writes about gender, families and the future of work for The Upshot. She joined The Times in 2008 and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. @clairecm • Facebook

Margot Sanger-Katz is a domestic correspondent and writes about health care for The Upshot. She was previously a reporter at National Journal and The Concord Monitor and an editor at Legal Affairs and the Yale Alumni Magazine. @sangerkatz • Facebook

Kevin Quealy is a graphics editor and reporter. He writes and makes charts for The Upshot about a range of topics, including sports, politics, health care and income inequality. @KevinQ


WASHINGTON—
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for reopening schools:

“Today, the CDC met fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence. For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous road map, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening.

“The CDC has produced an informed, tactile plan that has the potential to help school communities around the country stay safe by defining the mitigation and accommodation measures, and other tools educators and kids need, so classrooms can once again be vibrant places of learning and engagement.

“Of course, this set of safeguards should have been done 10 months ago—and the AFT released its plan recommending a suite of similar reopening measures in April. Instead, the previous administration meddled with the facts and stoked mass chaos and confusion. Now we have the chance for a rapid reset.

“We note the CDC has identified the importance of layered mitigation, including compulsory masking, 6 feet of physical distancing, handwashing, cleaning and ventilation, diagnostic testing and contact tracing. It reinforces vaccine priority for teachers and school staff. Crucially, it emphasizes accommodations for educators with pre-existing conditions and those taking care of others at risk.

“We remain supportive of widespread testing—especially as mutant strains multiply in areas of uncontrolled community spread—and we urge the CDC to remain flexible as more data comes to light. The guidance is instructive for this moment in time, but this disease is not static.

“The stage is now set for Congress and the Education Department to make this guidance real—and that means securing the funding to get this done in the nation’s school districts and meet the social, emotional and academic needs of kids. To that end, we are encouraged that the department is citing examples of successful reopening strategies in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.

“There’s a lot of work ahead to get this done. But the good news is the Biden administration is committed to realizing these recommendations through its $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and to creating a culture of trust and collaboration with educators and parents to get us there.”

#

The United Teachers of Los Angeles are not satisfied with the new CDC guidelines:

Feb. 12, 2021

For immediate release

UTLA Media Contact: Anna Bakalis / 213-305-9654 / abakalis@utla.net

UTLA Statement on new CDC guidelines for returning to in-person instruction

We applaud the CDC’s efforts for a national strategy to return to in-person instruction, but the new guidelines released on February 12 do not do enough to address the specific challenges of large urban school districts like LAUSD. And most troubling is that it does not require vaccinations for school staff, six-foot distancing in all schools, nor improved ventilation as a key mitigation measure. 

We reiterate that the path to a safe reopening must include: vaccines for all educators and school staff, multi-tiered mitigation strategies (such as COVID testing, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation/quarantine procedures) and lowered community transmission rates — LA County must be out of the purple tier. 

On the same day as the CDC released its new guidelines, LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, calling for the immediate reopening of K-6 classrooms, even without proper funding for mitigation measures nor vaccinations for school staff. It’s clear that political pressure is rising to force a return to in-person instruction. Without important health and safety protocols in place, we know whose lives will be on the line — the low-income communities of color disproportionately impacted by illness and death from the virus.

We ask those like Barger who are pushing to reopen in the purple tier and without lowered community transmission rates: How many infections and deaths are considered ‘safe?’

While LA educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms, the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County is still too high. 

UTLA remains committed to the health and safety of our students and our communities.

###

UTLA, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union local, is proud to represent more than 35,000 teachers and health & human services professionals in district and charter schools in LAUSD

It is easy to be confused about whether it’s safe to resume in-person instruction. Schools in Europe, which were quick to reopen a few months ago, are closed now due to a resurgence of COVID-19. Experts, including the new head of the CDC, say it’s safe to reopen, even if teachers have not been vaccinated.

Steven Singer does not agree. From the onset of the pandemic, he has worried about reopening too soon. Now he wants to know why Dr. Rochelle Walensky says it is not safe to go to a Super Bowl party, but safe to reopen schools without vaccinating teachers. He says Dr. Walensky is engaged in magical thinking. He asks: Why are schools safer than Super Bowl parties?

Mercedes Schneider deconstructs a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association that has been widely misunderstood as a blanket endorsement of full-time in-person instruction. She pulls the study apart to show its caveats. She is teaching in-person classes. She is prepared. She concludes:

Potential impact of variants aside, the JAMA article does not offer unconditional, blanket support for opening every K12 school nationwide for in-person learning. I can tell you that I would not feel nearly as comfortable in my own classroom if I were not able to arrange my room to keep myself over six feet away from my 17- and 18-year-old students for most of my instruction; if masks were not mandatory in my classroom, and if I did not have two air purifiers in my room.

Ezra Klein, a new columnist for the New York Times, writes that Biden’s plan to curb the pandemic is so blindingly obvious that it demonstrates how reckless and indifferent the Trump administration was. Trump thought that producing the vaccine would end the pandemic; but what matters most is getting people vaccinated, and for that he had no plan at all. When you read this, you may feel–as I did–thank God that someone is in charge who has ideas and plans about how to get people vaccinated. Someone is in charge. That’s a huge change.

He writes:

I wish I could tell you that the incoming Biden administration had a genius plan for combating Covid-19, thick with ideas no one else had thought of and strategies no one else had tried. But it doesn’t.

What it does have is the obvious plan for combating Covid-19, full of ideas many others have thought of and strategies it is appalling we haven’t yet tried. That it is possible for Joe Biden and his team to release a plan this straightforward is the most damning indictment of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response imaginable.

The Trump administration seemed to believe a vaccine would solve the coronavirus problem, freeing President Trump and his advisers of the pesky work of governance. But vaccines don’t save people; vaccinations do. And vaccinating more than 300 million people, at breakneck speed, is a challenge that only the federal government has the resources to meet. The Trump administration, in other words, had it backward. The development of the vaccines meant merely that the most logistically daunting phase of the crisis, in terms of the federal government’s role, could finally begin.

In the absence of a coordinated federal campaign, the job has fallen to overstretched, underresourced state and local governments, with predictably wan results. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the roughly 31 million doses that have been sent out, about 12 million have been used.

The good news is that the incoming Biden administration sees the situation clearly. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country,” Biden said on Friday. “You have my word that we will manage the hell out of this operation.”

The person in charge of managing the hell out of the operation is Jeff Zients, who served as chief performance officer under President Barack Obama and led the rescue of HealthCare.gov. In a Saturday briefing with journalists, Zients broke the plan down into four buckets. Loosen the restrictions on who can get vaccinated (and when). Set up many more sites where vaccinations can take place. Mobilize more medical personnel to deliver the vaccinations. And use the might of the federal government to increase the vaccine supply by manufacturing whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, to accelerate the effort. “We’re going to throw the full resources and weight of the federal government behind this emergency,” Zients promised.

Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening. Biden’s team members intend to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of vaccination sites in gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, and to deploy mobile vaccination options to reach those who can’t travel or who live in remote places. They want to mobilize the National Guard to staff the effort and ensure that strapped states don’t have to bear the cost. They want to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign. They want to launch a massive public education blitz, aimed at communities skeptical of the vaccine. They’re evaluating how to eke out more doses from the existing supply — there is, for instance, a particular syringe that will get you six doses out of a given quantity of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than five, and they are looking at whether the Defense Production Act could accelerate production of that particular syringe and other, similarly useful goods.

This plan merits, at least for me, a sense of fury: All of this should’ve been done months ago. These are the obvious ideas. We should be considering the hard, but perhaps necessary, decisions that could radically increase supply: using half-doses, for instance, or joining Britain in rapidly approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, even though the vaccine’s clinical trial was marred by shaky study design. I’m of the view that the situation is bad enough, and the costs of waiting large enough, that it might be worth moving forward on both counts, even with imperfect information. But those are difficult calls, with real downside risk. That there is so much low-hanging operational fruit for the Biden administration to focus on instead is a tragedy. It means people who could’ve been saved by simple competence and foresight will die instead.

Even now, the Trump administration’s poor planning and inconsistent communication fog the effort. In recent days, there have been reports that states aren’t receiving the vaccine allotments they’ve been promised. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon tweeted that the leaders of Operation Warp Speed had directly confirmed to her that “states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses.” The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said, “the national supply simply isn’t coming.” When I asked Zients whether the federal government had less vaccine supply than has been promised, he wasn’t able to give an answer. “We’ll conduct a full evaluation when we’re in our seats on supply, but it’s hard for me to say more than that right now, given the lack of information sharing from the Trump administration.”

The incoming administration is also free from the delusion that the vaccines will solve the coronavirus crisis on their own. Even on the most optimistic timetable, it will take until well into the summer for America to reach herd immunity. In the meantime, new variants of the virus that spread even faster are taking hold. Ron Klain, Biden’s choice for chief of staff, warned that the coronavirus death toll in America will pass 500,000 by the end of February. And it will not end there. That is why if you look at the incoming administration’s coronavirus rescue package, most of the money is dedicated to the policies that will let us survive this next year.

Of this, $20 billion is directed at the vaccination effort. Another $50 billion is dedicated to standing up the national testing infrastructure that we should’ve had long ago, with an emphasis on deploying rapid testing for asymptomatic individuals who work in high-risk settings and setting up genomic surveillance so we can see when and how the virus is mutating. Then there’s $130 billion intended to retrofit schools so they can operate safely, even with the virus in circulation.

A year into this crisis, America still hasn’t built a national contact tracing apparatus to track and suppress outbreaks: Biden’s plan calls for hiring more than 100,000 public health workers for national contact tracing, local vaccine outreach and more. Congregant settings, like nursing homes and prisons, have been the sites of particularly vicious outbreaks, and Biden wants to create specialized forces that can be rapidly deployed to such sites to save lives. The list goes on.

None of this — none of it — is interesting or surprising. It’s obvious, and it should’ve been done long ago. Back in May, I wrotethat we were operating, in effect, without a president and without a national plan. It is January, and that remains true. But that will end on the day of Biden’s inauguration. And then the hard work can, finally, begin.

After four years of science-denial, Biden is introducing a new era. Science and facts are in again. Truth matters. No alternative facts. Ignorance and stupidity are no longer honored or tolerable.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Saturday that he was “always going to lead with science and truth” as he announced top science and technology officials on his White House staff, reaffirming trust in the kind of expert research that the Trump administration often ignored or disdained.

Extolling what he called “some of the most brilliant minds in the world,” Mr. Biden said his new team’s mission would be to ask: “How can we make the impossible possible?” He vowed to elevate scientific research and thinking on topics like the coronavirus, cancer research, climate change, clean-energy jobs, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and other fast-advancing technologies.

The appointees included Eric S. Lander, whom Mr. Biden will nominate to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position that will for the first time hold cabinet rank.

President Trump left the position of science adviser unfilled for 18 months and his administration routinely ignored the guidance of government scientists on issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change.

Without specifically mentioning Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drew an implicit contrast with his administration’s dismissive attitude toward expert opinion.

“The science behind climate change is not a hoax,” Ms. Harris said during the introductions, held at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. “The science behind the virus is not a lie.”

Dr. Lander, who will also serve as presidential science adviser, was a leader of the Human Genome Project. As Dr. Lander’s deputy in the science and technology office, Alondra Nelson, whom was also named by Mr. Biden, is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, who has studied the intersection of science with social inequality and race.

Mr. Biden also named two co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology: Frances H. Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Maria Zuber, a geophysics and planetary science expert and the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission.

Mr. Biden also said that Dr. Francis S. Collins would remain as the director of the National Institutes of Health.