Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Opening Schools While Dealing with the Delta Variant

Schools are opening up as the Delta Variant is ascending. This could be a tough Fall.

What is the outlook for Covid cases?

UVA has a model for how the number of cases could progress. Here is what it looks like for Virginia:

The first peak represents last January. The second peak is the delta wave we are building towards. This model indicates that the worst of Delta could be in September and early October. Here is a quote from the authors: 

If the Delta variant continues to spread, cases could possibly peak at levels higher than previous January peaks. 

What should schools do?

Needless to say, FCPS's hands are currently tied by state legislation. If cases indeed surge as the UVA model suggests, AND the Governor unties the School Board's hands, then:

  • Keep concurrent off the table of options. It's a terrible option that serves everyone poorly
  • Switch to remote when public health and safeguarding your staff necessitate it. 
  • Set the expectation that K-6 and special needs students will be the first to return as soon as case levels are low enough to do so safely. 
  • Bring back MS/HS extracurricular activities before bringing MS/HS students back to classrooms.  
    • CDC guidance indicates that virus spread and public health need to be thought about holistically. Every single thing we do to open up multiplies the spread of the virus. Opening up MS/HS in-person classrooms AND extracurriculars have multiplicative effects. If you are going to pick one, I suggest the latter for the following two reasons. 
    • Allowing MS/HS extracurriculars provides students with valuable experiences without necessitating shuffling students from class to class. Unlike in ES, the secondary model of students moving from class to class is bound to spread the virus widely through the school and make contact tracing challenging. 
    • Keeping MS and HS students remote would provide more space in which classes for students in ES and with special needs (e.g., Special Education, ELL, etc.) could be held while implementing social distancing strategies.

None of the choices ahead are easy ones, and I don't envy the School Boards that have to wrestle with them. Still, if our communities can take decisive action now, we can push down the peak and get back to normal quickly.

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