School Reopening Is Everything You Need to Know About America

Across much of the US, schools have been reopening this week. It’s going about as well as you’d expect.

Elwood Junior Senior High School in Central Indiana started school on Thursday, July 30. They were closed by Monday after several staff tested positive for covid-19. The Superintendent explained that the district had seen, “more positive cases from staff members than we anticipated.” He didn’t explain how many cases the district’s brain trust expected, but apparently results were just a smidge over their threshold. Not to be deterred, they plan to reopen the schools in a week, because they haven’t killed anyone yet.

Intrepid leaders in Greenfield, Indiana are made of tougher stuff. When they had a student test positive on Day 1, they just kept going.

Indiana is barely a week into their reopening plan and it’s becoming a challenge to keep up with all the schools experiencing outbreaks. It’s developing into a running column in the Indianapolis Star. Cases are popping up everywhere schools are reopening, from North Carolina to Mississippi. And North Carolina reported its first death from a recent outbreak in daycare facilities.

Our debate over school reopening has something for everyone, offering a taste of just about every dysfunction crippling the former leader of the free world. Entitled white suburbanites are holding forth at school board meetings and online, “actually-ing” their uninformed counter-opinions on virus safety. Right wing nuts are spreading ever more bizarre conspiracy theories. Karen insists on speaking to the manager. Nice, polite white folk desperate to get their kids out of the house are granting teachers a cursory salute and the cannon-fodder title, “heroes,” as they march them off to face their looming ICU lottery.

The same people who spend the rest of the week shrieking about their “pro-life” values dismiss the obvious dangers of this pandemic to suit their politics and their personal convenience. Welcome to America, leading the world in covid-19 havoc.

Other countries have demonstrated that school reopening during the pandemic is possible. They’ve also demonstrated the conditions that determine the success or failure of those plans, conditions we have not met.

After a slow start, waiting for the leader of the free world to actually lead, Germany implemented the standard pandemic playbook on their own. Germany has an aggressive, national testing and tracing system, supplemented by 400 contact tracing call centers. Everyone who has come in contact with an infected person is placed on mandatory quarantine. The Germans are following the playbook we wrote and failed to implement.

Germany has been experimenting with in-person schooling in pilots over the summer and has begun a full-reopening, rolling across the country over the coming weeks. The first week has been very successful, not because of outstanding individual district plans, but because the national government has performed exceptionally well in coping with the pandemic. The entire nation of Germany, with 80 million people, had fewer than 600 new covid-19 cases yesterday, half the number of new cases in Wisconsin or Mississippi. With such low infection rates, containment measures in schools have a solid chance of success.

Israel wasn’t so lucky. The country had been a standout in pandemic response until it was time to reopen schools. Administrators’ original plans which would have limited in-person schooling to the youngest, least vulnerable age cohort were derailed by powerful religious extremists who insisted on a more ambitious program. That program failed immediately. An outbreak at a Jerusalem high school quickly mushroomed, joining other outbreaks. Within a few weeks much of the system had shut back down.

Back in May, when schools opened, Israel was experiencing fewer than 10 new cases a day. Daily new cases are well over 1000 now. Despite the failure of the earlier efforts and an out of control spread in the general population, Israel still plans to plough ahead with a new reopening plan in September.

How dangerous is this virus? That remains unclear. If the fatality rate is determined by comparing the number of “recovered” to the number of deceased, then you get a figure hovering around 5%. That figure rises significantly for those contracting the disease during a surge, when healthcare resources are strained. In Italy the death rate was near 15%. It can dip much lower for those lucky enough to contract the disease when there are few other local cases. In Hong Kong, for example, the death rate just a little under 2%.

Death rates for the disease are much higher for those over 50. Children under 10 rarely die from the virus and are most likely to be asymptomatic. It appears that young children may be marginally less likely to be contagious, though this remains unclear. And “marginally less likely” only helps so much when you’re locked in a room with 20 of them all day long.

Perhaps more worrying than the death rate for this disease is its potentially chronic implications. Covid-19 is not the flu. After respiratory symptoms pass and a patient ceases to be contagious, it appears that chronic symptoms often set in. Long-term damage can occur even in mild cases, and even among the very healthy, like professional athletes. We don’t know why this happens, how widespread chronic outcomes may be, or what these conditions might mean for children over the long term.

A German study found that more than 75% of covid-19 patients suffered persistent organ damage, including possible heart conditions. This included patients who had experienced mild infections. As this crisis expands we’re seeing patients who originally showed little symptom of illness reporting long-term chronic disease of the character of immune disorders like Lupus. This includes children, some of whom are displaying the immune disorder, Kawasaki Disease and toxic shock syndrome. These illnesses can deliver permanent cardiac damage. We don’t know why this is happening or how to treat it. Covid-19 is not a mild, seasonal illness.

Those who advocate allowing the disease to simply run its course, building up “herd immunity,” are making a lot of assumptions while yada-yada-ing their way over a pile of corpses. Real herd immunity is almost impossible without a vaccine. Even diseases like measles and chicken pox, for which our bodies develop long-term immunities, were not controlled until a vaccine was available. Coronavirus infections are notorious for resulting in only fleeting immunity, more similar to seasonal illnesses like the common cold. Those advocating that we simply soldier on are generally either lazy, ignorant, or confident that they won’t be the ones dying for their convenience.

Some argue that in-person school reopening should begin at least for younger children because of their reduced vulnerability. This ignores the worrying chronic implications of a covid-19 infection, implications we do not understand and cannot yet treat. More pointedly though it simply writes off the health and lives of teachers and their families.

An in-person school setting is nothing at all like working at Walmart or even caring for patients in a healthcare setting. Hardly any environment outside prisons or nursing homes involves more sustained, enclosed, close-exposure over longer periods than school. And the teachers’ lives will depend on the capacity of small children to maintain protocols for containing pathogens that are challenging for health care professionals.

How important is school opening? Very important. School closures have been one of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic for families and the one most likely to have painful long-term repercussions for children. We can never replace lost time. There’s little question that remote learning, even as schools develop better techniques, is a pale shadow of a conventional school day. What is lost from weaker education during this period probably can’t be made up.

Worse, schools are our only uniform, nation-wide system of free childcare, a lifeline of nurturing for children and material support for struggling families. Of America’s roughly 50 million public school students, well over half depend on a free or reduced price lunch for their nutrition. Almost half of American children live in low-income families and one in five live below the poverty line. As the social safety net has evaporated, the burden of child poverty has fallen to schools.

One might expect those families to demand school reopening. That’s not what’s happening. Like everything else in America, the debate over reopening breaks across party lines, which is another way of saying that opinion is divided by race. Republicans, who are almost exclusively white, heavily favor a damn-the-torpedoes reopening program while Democrats who are far more diverse and more likely to depend on schools for a lifeline, overwhelming oppose in-person reopening.

Families with far less material need for in-person schooling are the ones pressing hardest for premature school reopening, a position which makes no sense if you know nothing about America.

Time lost to a pandemic cannot be made up. Economic damage from families unable to find child care or missing the critical supports of the public education system will be staggering. These are not reasons to disregard the health of students or the lives of teachers and their families. No, we can’t buy back time, but we also can’t raise the dead.

Damage we are seeing from closed or remote schools are not a reason to ignore this crisis. They are a reason for us to insist that our national government build a real plan to contain the virus. No other major democracy is facing the death toll and sustained spread of this virus that is playing out across America. Like our gun crisis, our health care crisis, and our failure to address climate change, this pandemic is one more area in which our civic incompetence stands out from the wider world.

What we need to make school reopening possible is the same thing we needed from the beginning of this outbreak; the same thing other countries have done to manage the crisis successfully: An aggressive national program of testing and contact tracing, paired with national steps aimed at mitigating the spread. Failure of our national authorities to perform these simple tasks explains why America leads the world in death and mayhem from this disease.

No plans adopted by a local school district can fill the void left by a failed national response. We aren’t going to have in-person school without uncontrolled virus outbreaks until our federal government rises to this challenge. Until we have a competent federal response to this pandemic, our efforts to get kids back in school are just pissing in the wind.

Even after a vaccine is available, assuming a vaccine is available, these same test/trace steps will still be necessary to eradicate the virus, just as they were necessary in prior campaigns against polio and measles. Until we tackle the difficult parts of this challenge, we can’t have a cookie. Merely issuing our demands more loudly and insisting on speaking to the manager will not make this pandemic disappear.

Trying to send students back to school during an uncontrolled pandemic is childish narcissism. School reopening will last, at most, a few weeks before erupting into yet another embarrassing debacle. Along the way it will kill a lot of educators too financially strapped to risk their jobs by staying home.

Ignoring science and reality because we find them inconvenient is what makes America exceptional in all the worst ways. In America, my ignorance deserves just as much respect as your expertise. My convenience is more important than your survival, as long as I’m white. Having children makes me an education expert. I deserve every benefit of a highly functioning society of responsible citizens while displaying all the civic awareness of a disgruntled customer holding up the line at Starbucks. And anyone who criticizes these toxic values is being “uncivil.”

Whatever education kids pick up in their brief return to in-person school will be overshadowed by what they’re learning about us, a lesson that will damn us in their eyes forever.

36 Comments

  1. Chris I would be interested in your analysis regarding the USPS rollbacks and dropbox eliminations.

    Does this REALLY affect urban / bluer / Democratic leaning areas more than rural / redder / GOP leaning ones? It seems those places are the ones that need more USPS service more than blue areas.

    1. I’m interested in this analysis as well. No one yet has charted where these mail bins and sorting machines are coming from…We have learned through eye witness reports of some sightings but need all to see what the pattern is. Does zip code play a role? Even if the seizure of postal containers has been “paused”…those removed haven’t been replaced, nor have the onerous regulations been rescinded nor the critical sorting equipment replaced. The dollop team trump threw at us by stopping mail bin seizure is not nearly enough. I want everyone of these items replaced, the regulations rescinded and DeJoy removed, now.

      How? Congress isn’t scheduled to return until September 8. The appropriate committees need to return asap and handle this.

      18 U.S. Code 1701. Obstruction of Mail

      “Whoever knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

      18 U.S. Code 595

      “Whoever…uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

      “Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Patterson), NJ, has made a criminal referral to Attorney General Gubir Grewal to determine if Trumup and U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy played a criminal role in disrupting state elections in New Jersey.” (newjerseyglobe.com)

      House Democrats have asked the Inspector General that oversees the postal service to launch an investigation (too long – another IG likely fired if he tells the truth.)

      Is it part of the T campaign strategy to reduce/slow ballot returns in critical areas to achieve another narrow electoral college win? Surely it is in the public’s interest to know where this equipment was removed and where it is. Surely, postal workers could provide information about this missing equipment. Then there is the matter of the 23 relocated reassigned postal managers. Again, what postal districts are affected? Zip code sensitive per election? Public outcry and bad publicity may have stopped the mail bin carnage, but make no mistake – republicans are Not embarassed, they just “got caught. There will never be contrition. It’s simply a new twist in voter suppression.

      Michael Steele said it best this past week. Have you noticed we are not talking about the rotten economy? Or, how many people are unemployed and dying from Covid? No, we’re talking about mail delivery.

      Because that’s what the t campaign wants – to change the subject.

    2. No. This is a demonstration of how incredibly hard it is to steal an election beyond a local level. And a further demonstration of the utter incompetence of the people Trump surrounds himself with.

      At the end of the day, this scheme has more to do with efforts by Trump grifters to kneecap a business competitor than with election meddling, though I suspect that election meddling is how DeJoy sold it to Trump.

      Elderly white people are HUGE users of mail-in balloting. Guess who they mostly support. Those elderly white folk, especially the ones in super-Trumpy rural eras, tend to lean on the postal service for everything from communications to medicine. They are already screeching about this.

      These people are as stupid as they are evil.

  2. Once in a while I wonder just how stupid the American people are. Everyone has heard of Qanon. It is like Info Wars on steroids! And the GOP has a lock on these people!

    This morning on CNN I saw a discussion on how Trump can win the electoral election and loose the popular vote by even more than 2016. It’s not all that hard actually. Just suppress the vote in some states.

    Anyway, below is an interesting article on Q. Hard to believe there are so many people with serious mental issues in this country! And they all vote R!

    https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/how-qanon-rode-pandemic-new-heights-fueled-viral-anti-mask-n1236695

    1. Did you note the common threads in that article?
      “Facebook groups”, “Instagram accounts”.

      I have said it before, and am shouted down as some kind of nut in the fascist camp: We are reaching a point where the Internet is NOT a net positive for humanity. I am fully aware that no politician, except maybe the tyrant, can win by saying they will wipe out Facebook, Instagram, and all other social media sites, but it would be a net positive for humanity.

      And yes, that would include comment sections like this one, which would be collateral damage.

      1. A few things.

        1. The internet isn’t going anywhere. It’s like fire, steel, firearms, nuclear missiles. Regardless of the damage it can do, it’s inherently part of human culture.
        2. If the internet gets turned off, it’s only going to happen by a government intent on purging dissenters. So when the internet is turned off, it ain’t a good thing for anyone but the tyrant and murderers.
        3. For any Revolution, the internet is necessary for communication by the people trying to overthrow a tyrant.

        Social Media is trash. As a species we have to make our way through the initial existence of social media being used by mostly older and dumber people as a weapon, just the way we had to make our way through the initial existence of jets, rockets and nuclear bombs being in control by mostly older and dumber people.

  3. More recent math:

    Reuters is reporting that 6% of the UK population has had the virus.

    https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain-prevalence/nearly-6-of-people-in-england-may-have-had-covid-19-researchers-say-idUKKCN2590YW

    Now, when one works with the actual numbers stated in the article (3.4 million infected), that is closer to 5% of the UK population, which is a BIG sample size.

    What I can see is that as of now, 41,329 Brits have died of Covid. That is a 1.2% actual mortality rate for infected people. But what I am more interested in is the number that is not talked about: the number of survivors with long term or permanent damage.

    We are now 6 months into this pandemic, with worldwide focus of all media and medical experts on this virus. Surely, with a sample size that large, if the percentage of infected who survived with long term conditions was even a small percentage, there would be a significant number of actual cases. Yet I am still looking for a definitive study that has any results for large scale investigation (a couple weeks ago Chris gave one for a very small sample size for kids) into long term effects.

    As the months have passed, given there no reports of tens, or hundreds, of thousands, of Brits struggling to exercise, or make it up a flight of stairs, I am very seriously starting to wonder exactly how prevalent any serious long term effects are.

    More and more, I am starting to come back to my original thoughts: 1% die, the vast majority get better, though some take much longer than others. If that is the actual case, we have to spin back to the cost versus return question, and how much a human life is actually worth.

    1. That’s not how chronic problems work.

      COVID is causing clots. Clots can cause problems immediately, or over time.

      So, even if most people who don’t die get better, it doesn’t mean they aren’t now at risk for heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism, coronary/peripheral vascular disease, etc., ad nauseam.

      This all assumes that once you beat it and don’t develop any chronic conditions, you won’t just catch it again 4 months later and be put at the same level of risk of COVID pneumonia and chronic conditions.

    2. Umm… that’s not how medical research works Dins. Absence of evidence does not imply evidence of absence. No one in the world has had the disease for longer than a year (that we know of). How do you expect doctors to have already figured out the 5, 10, 20 year course of this thing?

      Despite the limited time-series data we have, doctors are making the best conclusions they can as the data evolves. Initially, in the very early stages, they assumed Covid was similar to other coronaviruses and guessed that there would be minimal long-term effects, akin to flu. Now, we’re seeing short-term effects that we never saw with other coronaviruses, such as strokes, blood clots, lung damage, etc. and extrapolating expected long-term effects from what we know about the expected course of those types of associated conditions. That’s a reasonable assumption but still an assumption: perhaps the lung damage from Covid has less long-term effect than lung damage from other diseases. Perhaps more. We won’t know until more time passes.

      What we have now are informed guesses / speculations / extrapolations trying to piece together the very minimal amount of information we have about Covid itself, along with what we know about related topics such as other coronavirus diseases, other lung diseases, other strokes, other blood clotting disorders, etc. to try to provide a best guess about what we expect the long-term effects will be. But until 5, 10, 20 years passes (especially in the case of kids and the lifelong effects they may or may not see from even “asymptomatic” disease) we just won’t know.

      Your expectation that, since there are millions with the virus, a few months data is enough to know what the long-term effects, reminds me of the old joke that “a manager is someone who thinks 9 women can make a baby in 1 month”. Some things can’t be rushed 🙂

      Also, I will say that part of the reason you may not hear about post-covid patients struggling to go up stairs, etc. is because most of the world’s medical infrastructure is still in triage mode: if you don’t have an urgent and/or life-threatening illness, you’re encouraged to stay home. So if all you have after your covid infection is some difficulty going up stairs, rather than seeing a lung doctor and/or going to physical therapy, you might decide to just grin and bear it for now and not report it.

      I realize this is just an anecdote and not data, but if you think Covid doesn’t seem to be causing lasting effects, the first double lung transplant for a post-Covid patient was done in June:

      https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/12/875486356/first-known-u-s-lung-transplant-for-covid-19-patient-performed-in-chicago

      NB: she was in her mid-twenties. I wish every wingnut who think only old people get serious problems from Covid would read this article…

      1. I am well aware how medical research works. The point is, we are 6 months into this, and there is laser focus worldwide on this. Can a third world country like the u.s. be expected do analysis on long term effects? Given that the control the anti-science cult has of the country, of course not.

        But there are at least half a dozen 1st world nations that DO have this under control, and DO have the interest and ability to track long term effects. They are not in triage mode. There would indeed be reports, even anecdotal, if a large percentage were showing serious effects.

        Now, we do have the Red Sox pitcher that has myocarditis, and is shut down for the baseball season, but he is expected to have a full recovery. But I don’t hear stories about people that were infected showing up in the hospital 2,3 or 5 months after they were infected.

      2. You’re still looking at this like the misguided manager I joked about. Doesn’t matter if you have a laser focus. It doesn’t allow you to look into the future. Effects within 6 months of a disease are still considered short-term effects. Medium term would be 1-5 years, and long term is >5 years. Those numbers aren’t set in stone but they’re good rules of thumb. We haven’t even cataloged all of the *short term* effects yet. For example, we know basically nothing about how Covid affects pregnancy, since in most countries Covid hasn’t been around long enough for covid+ women to conceive and deliver their babies. Doesn’t matter what country or health system you’re talking about. And you’re saying that since we’re not seeing “long term” effects within 6 months, there probably aren’t any? Again, that’s not how medical research works.

    1. Left work early today because of a water main issue, so I got to see the Biden/ Harris presser live. To steal something I read in a live chat, it’s like crawling through the desert and finding an air-conditioned store giving away ice cream, beer, and lemonade. How I have missed coherent speech. Intelligent speech. Speech that’s not trying to divide America.

  4. Following up with the Kodak thing, apparently there is also this Owens & Minor thing, exact same people in the exact same funding pattern:

    https://www.epsilontheory.com/the-grifters-chapter-2-n95-masks/

    Kodak / Owens & Minor thing is at the bottom, after Ben Hunt breaks down the N95 distribution network as the huge tentacled con it is.

    Get to know the name Adam Boehler. He’s a King Con and we can’t logically expect or perceive there to be progress toward rebuilding a functional country, government, or economy until he is behind bars. As long as he’s walking free, you know which trajectory we’re on.

  5. Rumor has it that the Big10 will pull the plug on the football season, following the MAC. Hopefully the rest will follow suit. The less potential super-spreader situations, the better.

    It’s sacrilege to say it in TX, but Friday Night Lights also needs to be shutdown this year.

    1. Quite frankly, it’s a disgrace that it’s taken this long for them to decide. These are supposedly amateur student-athletes, doing nothing more than throwing the pigskin around while pursuing their primary goal, getting an education, right? The hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue they generate are secondary to the noble purpose of education, right? That’s why we don’t pay them, right?

      What nonsense. If this doesn’t prove that universities value their “student-athletes” as athletes first, million dollar revenue generators second, people a distant third, and students a distant fourth, then I don’t know what does.

  6. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has this one statement I found quite provocative, that public education doesn’t lead to wealthy societies, wealthy societies can afford public education. That thesis is very discomforting if it turns out the be right.

    However, if we set that idea as a premise, then currently we can declare that the United States of America is not a wealthy nation.

    The only thing Americans have left to lose is their delusions, which is why they’re fighting so hard to hold on to them.

  7. Many private and religious elementary and high schools are choosing to open mid-August, as is traditional. They aren’t bound by all the pesky regulations public schools are, and, don’t look for refunds if they have to shut down.

    Nevertheless, it will be instructive for those public school systems that are delaying opening to monitor the private sector. It’s imminently simpler to space 8 students in a classroom than 30.

  8. “Entitled white suburbanites are holding forth at school board meetings and online, “actually-ing” their uninformed counter-opinions on virus safety. Right wing nuts are spreading ever more bizarre conspiracy theories. Karen insists on speaking to the manager. Nice, polite white folk desperate to get their kids out of the house are granting teachers a cursory salute and the cannon-fodder title, “heroes,” as they march them off to face their looming ICU lottery.”
    You spend a lot of time on social media Chris?
    (It isn’t just that this is “uncivil”. It’s unpersuasive. Anti-persuasive, even. I think it shows that some part of you doesn’t want to convince anyone.)

    I dived two links deep into the survey you cite. I saw no definition of the terms “sooner” and “later” which, to say the least, makes the results not as useful as they could be. Does “later” mean September? Until there’s a vaccine? Unless there’s something the write-up isn’t telling us, that question did not mean the same thing to every person asked.
    There is also, floating around a survey from Associated Press. https://apnews.com/b133f482b2eba88f8bd733e2d15d13ae
    They choose to word this headline as “Very few Americans back full school reopening”, but if you look at the graphic with more detailed survey results what it actually shows is that nearly everyone wants schools to open “with major adjustments”, and “schools should not open at all” is a minority opinion, held by about 1 in 3 respondents overall, and 44% of Democrats. Meanwhile the CDC has a lengthy article explaining why schools should open https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/reopening-schools.html and not even the NYT has taken the position that we should stay completely closed. (Speaking of which, if this issue is really about racism and the cult of Trump and such, why is NYC doing hybrid learning?)
    As best as I can tell, you’re saying we should stay closed until a vaccine appears. It’s not that you’re alone in holding that opinion, but a clear majority is against it. The idea that everyone who disagrees with you is a bigot, or selfish to the point of letting others die, or equivalent to a child throwing a tantrum, is neither true nor strategic. There are valid concerns on both sides here; you acknowledge this yourself although it doesn’t seem to affect your final judgment all that much.

    I’m a grad student, so I experience this mainly from the student perspective but I get a small window into the teaching side too. (I also have a brother in grade school.) All around, the effect of Zoom schooling compared to normal is that we invest more time into a far crappier result.
    The school I’m at is doing hybrid video/in-person, with required mask-wearing, required testing, disinfectant, only using huge rooms and only for small classes, certain cohorts forced to do all online, yada yada yada. And it looks like faculty and students will get some degree of choice to not be present on campus even if they’re eligible. This, to me, seems like the most reasonable thing in the world. I’m unlikely to die from the virus, and have no elderly people in my social orbit, and so would like to take the risk. Anyone who doesn’t want to take the risk can choose not to. And more importantly, the risk itself is mitigated by various protective measures.

    1. Surveys say that everyone wants this to end and put it all behind them. When it comes to technical subjects, surveys are garbage.

      No one is saying that schools should not reopen at all. Remote learning is available. It’s far from ideal, but it helps contain this disaster without completely losing time.

      As for New York, they’ve done what it took to bring their virus numbers down to very small levels, some of the smallest in the country. They’ve merely made reopening optional, not required it. But just watch. With this hybrid plan they’re making the same mistake they made in March for the same reasons. The lessons from Israel and elsewhere are pretty clear. Their schools will be shut back down by October.

      This doesn’t end when we get a vaccine. It ends when we devise a competent collective response. No, it’s not about Trump. It’s a bigger problem of entitlement among white people all over the political spectrum. And no, I’m not suggesting we simply dig a hole until it goes away.

      I described an example of that competent collective response in the piece with reference to Germany. Other, even better ones are available from places like S. Korea, Hong Kong, and despite some recent setbacks, Japan and Canada. Societies with the capacity to organize a competent response get to continue to enjoy most of the benefits of civilization. And if the world’s only global public health power finally weighed in with a competent response, this pandemic would be a dot in our rearview mirror pretty quickly. That isn’t likely to happen because a competent collective response would call on a lot of qualities that we as a society seem to lack.

      Absent that competent collective response, every risk I take on places new risks on the shoulders of people around me, and on the shoulders of people at great distances from me, people I don’t know and never will know. Until we do the hard things, there is no escape, not even into denial.

      Here’s the kicker, the thing your comment has in common with the wider American dysfunction:

      “I’m unlikely to die from the virus, and have no elderly people in my social orbit, and so would like to take the risk. Anyone who doesn’t want to take the risk can choose not to. And more importantly, the risk itself is mitigated by various protective measures.”

      Oh, is that what you’d like? Well, that changes everything. Do you want fries with that?

      A virus doesn’t give a fuck what I want. Carbon molecules trapped in the atmosphere don’t give a fuck whether I believe in their natural properties. Some forces in the universe won’t yield to my well-considered personal preferences.

      You’re not just picking your choice of toothpaste or the toppings on your Whopper. You have absolutely no means to limit the consequences of your choices to your own individual sphere, because no such thing exists.

      Your choices will have implications for people you don’t know, people who’s names you’ll never learn. The lady in front of you at the grocery store, the nurse, the TA in the lab. The failure to comprehend our interconnectedness is the real disease here, the real killer, and the damage extends beyond this crisis into dozens of others. There is no choice you can make in response to this pandemic – not a single one – that won’t bring other people along for the ride for good or ill (pun-intended). The risks you decide to take impact my risk factors and vice versa, and I don’t even know your name or your zip code.

      None of us are free from this shared fabric, no matter how badly we want to believe we are. We are interdependent.

      And no, I’m not trying to persuade anyone of anything. I gave that up four years ago. I’m not convinced that it works or that it matters. This is a place for honest, open thought, not pleading. It’s free and worth every penny.

      1. Yep. That’s why it’s called, “community spread”. Selfish people are myopic. It makes life simpler. One of the humbling aspects of aging is the realization of how big this world is and how little we really know. It’s called: maturity.

      2. @Chris and Mary
        I take steps to not transmit the disease even if I’m not personally afraid of it. I wore a mask in public even before the CDC changed its guidelines to support that action. I respect the 6 ft rule. If I test positive I’ll gladly lock myself in for two weeks. But one thing I won’t do, if I get the choice, is do everything but grocery shop by video conference for the next year. Is that selfish? Sure, by definition it is. But I’m doing what I can and I’m drawing the line somewhere. A prompt and competent response earlier would have saved us, but the world we’re living in now is a series of Sophie’s choices.

  9. Jay

    In an earlier post, you mentioned that the smart people will disengage from the whole society peddling idiocy, and then make progress. I say this sounds great ! Who wants to join me ? We’ll soon be flying spaceships, and everyone will still be occupied with sloth, and their love for shortbread cookies and kool-aid.

    Oh well, looks like darwin was right after all !

    1. This old 2016 post feels more ominous now.

      “This goofy little lark of a film has layers we have largely ignored. It may be time for us to update our definition of dystopia.

      “For Brawndo and Starbucks and Carl’s Jr. and Costco to continue to function and thrive in this Idiocracy, an entire class of humans must have escaped the reach of democratic politics. They exist in a realm beyond the conception, much less the authority, of President Camacho and his cabinet of simpletons. Idiocracy may not be about the descent of humans into stupidity, but rather the collapse of politics as a means of achieving common human interests.

      “Picture a scenario in which successful (not necessarily smart or good) people have largely withdrawn off into their own realm, a place where everything works, innovations are quickly absorbed, and life is a seemingly endless cycle of improvement. These communities lose most of their connection to the geography and politics around them, having more in common with cohorts in similar enclaves around the world than with less affluent communities an hours’ drive away.

      “In the communities they left behind, dysfunction piles onto dysfunction, compounding existing challenges into crises. Efforts to express their desperation are turned aside and ignored. Frustration boils over and they saddle an existing political system with the burden of an erratic, populist autocrat. It makes no difference. Their autocrat is merely a grifter, enriching himself at every turn while the job itself is neglected. Their outburst merely pours energy into efforts by the more affluent to insulate themselves.”

      https://www.politicalorphans.com/a-chilling-reinterpretation-of-idiocracy/

      1. Chris, if you want movies that track what the U.S. is heading to, or has already arrived at, I think you want to have a look at the original Rollerball and Elysium.

        They are a better fit than Idiocracy.

        The tyrant’s team truly has made the most of their power. By Nov, there will be another wave, much larger than the original, especially when cases start getting conflated with the standard flu season. Like every article and pundit has been saying for weeks, the voting cycle is going to be chaos.

        And again, for the umpteenth time, for those that simply refuse to do the math, the tyrant has already “won” the election. The tyrant could lose Penn and Mich, and still get 274 Electoral College votes. If he has even the slightest doubt, all he has to do is on Oct 31st create another executive order stating that due to rampant fraud mail-in ballots will not be counted. The swing states of Florida and Wisconsin will immediately fall in line and state they won’t be counting, perhaps even accepting mail-in votes. Those two states have his lackeys in every position that control the voting process.

        It is utterly irrelevant that it is completely illegal. There will simply not be enough time to launch a lawsuit to counter such a move. The loser party will be outmaneuvered, again.

    2. “In an earlier post, you mentioned that the smart people will disengage from the whole society peddling idiocy, and then make progress. I say this sounds great ! Who wants to join me ? We’ll soon be flying spaceships, and everyone will still be occupied with sloth, and their love for shortbread cookies and kool-aid.”

      That space frontier libertarian/ objectivist philosophy is still just American exceptionalist propaganda sold for the benefit of billionaires. If the space bunkers happen, nobody, not one person, on this forum will be invited. Donald Trump’s children will be though.

      It won’t be measured by intelligence, it’ll be measured by wealth. The only non-wealthy in space will be functionally wage-slaved working class people in fundamentally authoritarian structures, because even minor mistakes could cause entire terraformed or livable habitat collapse, so they won’t be given an inch of freedom to make them.

      ——————————

      Periodically we mention our favorite sci fi here and once again I’d like to mention that Soylent Green is not futurology, it’s documentary. The problem is that its most famous element is hammy so people think it’s some ridiculous, non-serious work.

      But if you actually watch the movie itself, disabused of its pop culture fame, you see a very refined story about a civilization at the tail end of ecological collapse where the masses sleep in the stairwells of hot, unlivable cities and only a very few rich men and the women caught in sexual servitude to them live in anything resembling comfort. The police largely exist to hold back mass protests, and technology and infrastructure has been so divested from public access that police forces are forced to use football helmets and abandoned bulldozers. Money no longer exists but credit circulates among the very few remaining pieces of institutional organization that remains.

      The only place that remains clean and open to the public are the buildings where the overpopulated masses can elect to be killed so as to get them out of the way of the rest of the world.

      Soylent Green is the future Elon Musk is building while he preaches his Silicon Valley space and Internet Rapture, a belief equally as religious hokum as the Christian variant. We’re not going to space and our brains aren’t being uploaded. In a very real sense, once the planet can no longer sustain us we will simply die off. If you believe in any other form of ‘progress’, you’re being used.

    3. But idiocracy didn’t account for disease. As much as billionaires might deny it, they’re the same species as us, which means viruses can infect them just as easily as some poor starving kid on the streets. Rich people can wall themselves off from the public’s stupidity, but they can’t wall off from their diseases. And billionaires don’t like washing their own toilets or preparing their own food.

      Remember when Elon Musk had his twitter meltdown because Alameda county wouldn’t let him open his factory two weeks early? All that shows is that Obama was right: billionaires didn’t build their empires alone. It was off the backs of the rest of us, be it workers, consumers, taxpayers, whatever. They can’t fly off to Mars without bringing at least a few of us with them, and without the rest of society from which they can buy services, their dollars are just rectangle-shaped, green-colored cotton rags.

  10. A few comments on back to school at the college level. I’m in the Houston metro area, and I have ties to both UH and Rice, so I get the info on the various reopening plans. I think higher Ed is going to run into the same sort of problems. There are plans for on-line classes (especially for at-risk faculty), in-person classes at lower capacity/outside in tents, changes to housing arrangements (more single rooms) and how food will be delivered. They’re preparing to do a lot of Covid testing. Budget slashing is happening. But they’re still talking about playing football. I like football as much as any Texan, but I can’t see it happening, even with only 25% of seating capacity filled. That’s the thing that tells me that reality has not completely dawned.

  11. One ray of hope, a young lady who has been paying attention and learning:

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/georgia-high-school-reverses-suspension-student-who-tweeted-viral-photo-n1236163

    The school administration tried the shoot-the-messenger approach (which has never failed to be a bad idea), but at least rightly decided to quit while that were behind. In a plot twist that will surprise no one, the school was now reported Covid-19 cases (as of Aug 8). Hannah Watters described her actions as “good trouble, necessary trouble”. She’s done Rep. John Lewis proud. Too bad that she is not old enough to vote, but I hope she inspires her classmates who are.

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