COVID-19: Back to School?

I have friends who are teachers in Maine and New York state, and family who are teachers in Ohio and Georgia. There’s a great deal of uncertainty about the upcoming school year, and lots of concern over COVID-19. One of the crucial aspects of re-opening schools is the current state of the pandemic. Of course it’s only one factor in the school decision, but it is a crucial one. With that in mind, let’s look at these four states and assess how ready (or not) they are to deal with COVID-19.

In my opinion, in order to loosen restrictions, re-open the economy, and/or consider re-opening schools, a state should be in the “green zone” — no more than 40 cases per day per million population. At that level, cases are few enough that contact tracing can work its magic to best effect, stomping out flare-ups before they get out of hand. Contact tracing, and a mandatory mask order, are how you stay in the green zone.

New York is in excellent shape: the green zone.

New York is there, and they’ve been there consistently for weeks now. Furthermore, they have the experience of having dealt with a crisis early (when the caseload exceeded 300); they have the infrastructure in place and they know how to do more than flatten the curve; they crushed it.

Maine is also doing well: green zone.

Ohio is in bad shape: orange alert.

They spent a lot of time in the yellow alert zone during April and May, but since mid-June the caseload has swelled into the orange alert zone. And it’s still rising.

Georgia is in terrible shape: red zone.

Georgia was already doing badly, unable to get out of the yellow alert zone, and their recent re-opening has been a disaster, cases soaring beyond the orange-alert zone into the red zone. And still rising.

None of this addresses the other, many unanswered questions about school re-opening. What I’ve seen of the plans presently in place and being discussed, does not inspire confidence. In fact, it convinces me that no state, none at all, is ready to re-open schools.

But apart from all those considerations, this much is clear: Ohio and Georgia should not re-open schools no matter what. Until they can bring the epidemic under control, they have no business risking more lives.

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8 responses to “COVID-19: Back to School?

  1. Dennis Hlinka

    Where do you get all your raw data to make these charts?

    [Response: Johns Hopkins Univ.]

  2. Billy Pilgrim

    “At that level, cases are few enough that contact tracing can work its magic to best effect, stomping out flare-ups before they get out of hand. Contact tracing, and a mandatory mask order, are how you stay in the green zone.”

    Hong Kong used this strategy from the very beginning:

    A grand total of just 7 deaths to date (0.9/million). This is even more impressive given the population density (6,300 people/Km2, one of the most crowded in the world), and an aging populace (median age is 43.2 years).

  3. For comparison, in Germany 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, accumulated over the last seven days, will trigger a district level lockdown. That’s about 70 daily new cases per million.

  4. Dennis Hlinka

    I am impressed by the type of information provided by these charts, especially for our leaders so they can make informed decisions. This is something that someone should provide on some web site on a daily basis for every State. Have you thought about that?

  5. Susan Anderson

    While Worldometers isn’t quite as accurate as Johns Hopkins,* it does provide a wide range of sortable data with links to specific data for most states as well. And over on the “notes” side some other kinds of information.

    * There have been some claims of double counting (the VA, etc.) and their numbers come out faster. A lot of times I click on “yesterday” to get more complete final numbers.

  6. Susan Anderson

    Massachusetts has a new problem: Gov. Baker has decided schools can “make do” with 3 rather than 6 feet of social distancing. Sigh …

  7. Dennis Hlinka

    If I can suggest adding to your chart the color code of “red” for anything above 260 new cases/day / 1M. Using that criteria based on the most current data today, there are eight States that meet that “red” criteria: 1) Florida, 2) Tennessee, 3) Alabama, 4) Louisiana, 5) Kansas, 6) Georgia, 7) South Carolina, and 8) Nevada.

    A U.S. map showing these color codes, including my suggested “red” would directly highlight those States that need to shut down immediately.

  8. Dennis Hlinka

    As the final case numbers come in, the States of Texas and Idaho can be added to that “red” list.