Sunday, October 3, 2021

The View from Here: Preventing School Spread of Covid-19

Stuck in another gruelling semester of school, it's striking how a minor schedule change can completely disrupt time and energy. I'm falling asleep as soon as I get home! But that's also from additional stressors, like all the rapid tests being repossessed by the Ford government for business use only. We need PHUs, school boards, unions, and businesses all to stand up to any governmental rules that support business at the expense of our children, despite any consequences they may incur. That's courageous leadership. We need free rapid tests in our community, HEPA filters in our classrooms (or at least a Corsi/Rosenthal box), mandatory vaccinations for staff and students over 11, and mandatory N95/KN95/KF94 masks worn in the building at all times. OR we have to acknowledge that we've decided to tolerate this virus longterm. 

It's become so painfully clear that Ford will always favour profits over people. Businesses get the perks, and children are left to their own devises. Nothing has been more demoralizing to me than knowing a team of volunteers brought rapid tests to kids to prevent the spread but then "got caught" with the contraband and were stopped from distributing them. Part of the argument for denying children access is that kids don't get as sick, so don't need them as much as adults do, BUT 1. there are adults in schools, 2. kids can spread it to parents and grandparents, and 3. many kids who get a mild case or are completely asymptomatic end up with LongCovid, which could mean a lifelong disability. Always keep in mind that creating a system that doesn't work can beautifully pave the way towards privatization of education. We have to be ever alert to that covert plan. 

A recent article on rapid tests laments the cost of $7 in the U.S. Seven dollars

"In Germany, you can buy a rapid Covid-19 test at the grocery store for one euro. In Britain, any household can obtain a pack of seven rapid tests every day for free. . . . Policymakers recognized early on that the tests could blunt the pandemic by stopping chains of transmission. . . . even in areas with high vaccination rates and can allow for a safer return to in-person activity. . . . The Delta variant is highly contagious, which is why knowing your Covid status in real time, on a frequent basis, is more important than ever. . . . There is bipartisan support for making rapid testing free and widely available."

Imagine, instead of going IN to a pharmacy and having to remove your mask in the store, just doing a test at home, before breakfast, twice a week (or daily if in contact with a case), and checking the results before considering walking out the door!

According to Dr. Jeff Gilchrist, with the Delta variant, 

"74% of transmission happens before any of the school screening criteria would identify a child who may be infected, a different approach such as rapid testing is required. . . . Rapid tests are very accurate when COVID-19 virus levels are high enough that a person is infections, which is when you want to stop a person from going to school" (from here). 

The Nature study on transmission that he cited above should be enough to toss the symptomatic self-reporting that might stop a quarter of cases at the door, but, from what I've seen, is often poorly understood with at least one student coming to school coughing because they read it as only stay home with a "barking cough" and didn't know what that even meant! We have tons of tests, and a morning routine of testing, every Monday and Thursday, on top of staying home for any symptoms beyond an obvious allergy, would stop the virus in its tracks. We can accommodate students learning from home far better than we can accommodate students in chronic care.

Another recent article shows that the Delta virus is "evolving to become more efficient at transmitting through the air":

"The ultratransmissibility of the variants may come down to a mix of factors. It may be that lower doses of the variants are required for infection, or that the variants repicate faster, or that more of the variant virus is exhales into aerosols--or all three. . . . the Delta variant has mutations that turbocharged its contagiousness. . . . We are recommending people move to tighter-fitting masks."

I'm still arguing with people that Covid is not just like having a cold or flu. Dr. Diego Bassani clarifies that "paediatric Covid-19 has higher in-hospital mortality [3.5 times higher] and higher proportion requiring intensive care than influenza" (from here).

As my MPP, Catherine Fife, asked recently, "It doesn't make any sense. . . . This is a proactive measure. You really have to wonder what is driving this decision. Why would you leave that tool in the tool box and not put it into play?"

Of course we all know, and she knows too: If we offer free tests to all families with grade school kids, like Nova Scotia has done (ETA: and Quebec too), then Shoppers won't get the outrageous profits from jacked up prices, and that might affect Ford's campaign donation levels.   

Here's the trajectory in Ontario by week since school started (from Bill Comeau) - 1/3 of Ontario cases are in schools now.

Clearly cases have risen since the start of school in the 5-11 range. The decrease in the 12-17 range can be accounted for with vaccinations once they became required for sports in some areas and once schools like TDSB have openly asked for the Covid vaccine to be added to the mandatory list. But if we admit that cases are spreading within schools, if we acknowledge that my own board has 229% higher cases in schools than in the community and that students and staff are clearly getting the virus from school, then it leaves the WSIB open to claims, and we can't have that! 

LongCovid cases are being largely ignored by media. Several people on social media are (or were) documenting more than a year of painful symptoms after an initially mild case of Covid, including extreme fatigue, body pain and burning extremities, lack of taste or smell affecting hunger and thirst, major hair loss, and multiple organ failure, particularly the kidneys. "You can lose your life without dying" is their mantra, begging to be heard by the unvaccinated and unmasked. 

And we need HEPA filters. Dr. David Fisman explains that typhoid fever, the leading cause of death in Toronto before 1912, all but disappeared when we separated sewage waste and filtered drinking water:

"We have the ability to transform respiratory disease risk via ventilation just as risk of death from waterborne disease was transformed a century ago in North America with construction of sewage and water treatment infrastructure. Air is the new poop" (from here).

We can look to others to see what has worked and what hasn't, like in West Virginia, where they're experiencing the fastest-accelerating surge yet. The article discusses one teacher's experience:

"His school has a mask mandate, but that's about it. There's no testing, no distancing, no vaccination requirements, no ventilation improvements. Last year, at least . . . classes were about half their normal size. . . . We're basically pretending like everything is normal. . . . O'Neal himself just came back last week after he contracted the virus, despite being fully vaccinated and wearing a mask religiously. . . . We just basically sent kids back without first ensuring that al the safety measures were in place. . . . everyone's priority is just getting things back to exactly how they were on March 1, 2020. . . . Why are we not getting air purifiers? . . . Schools should also tests for Covid regularly and support those who need to quarantine or isolate. . .  Teacher morale is at an all-time low." 

Sound familiar?? We HAVE to start imagining anyone with a mask off exhaling a huge cloud of cigar smoke, imagine how quickly the stench fills a closed room, and how quickly we'd want to get out of that room or throw open all the window if we knew it to be potentially lethal. Our inability to see or smell the virus is adding to our complacency. The only place students should get mask breaks or eat is outdoors, distanced from one another. 

And we really have to ditch the school-issued ASTM level 2 masks. Check out these scientists warning about the inferior surgical masks: 

"There is now a cornucopia of high-filtration respirator-style masks on the market, including N95s, Chinese-made KN95s, and South Korean-made KF94s. They have been widely available and relatively affordable for months and provide better protection than cloth or surgical masks. . . . Experts on aerosol transmission agree that health authorities should strongly recommend people wear well-fitted, high-filtration masks. . . . A good mask is the most important defense we have. . . . N95s made by reputable brands such as 3M, Moldex or Honeywell had close to 99% filtration . . . a surgical mask alone had between about 50 and 75 percent filtration efficiency.. .. . I don't think surgical masks are good enough anymore, and we should have gotten rid of cloth masks last summer--they're not even in the spectrum of good filtration."

Luckily, has come up with a blue version to better hide under the legislated mask:

Rumours are floating that somewhere students wearing mesh masks weren't stopped because they didn't technically break any rules since they're still wearing a cloth mask. I can't find corroboration, but it's this type of losing the forest for the trees that will be the death of us! (If this nonsense appears in my class, my solution will be to wear mesh outfits to work! Then we'll find out what counts as cloth.) 

We still have masks off to eat, indoors, but at least students can choose to go outside for lunch to avoid the most dangerous time in the building this year. BUT our board allow students to eat and drink during classes, which makes it unsafe all the time. Had I known kids would take long, slow drinks throughout class time, with masks off, I would have signed my daughter up for online learning. In my own classes, I put my foot down, and tell them they can make it 75 minutes until we go for a walk. If they really can't manage, then they can slip into the hall to chug something. I've been spoken to about my rule, which doesn't match the school rules and the board rules, but the safety of students in the build must trump the government mandates that don't prioritize children. The problem with letting kids leave for lunch is that they stand in line at Tim's, then bring lunch to be eaten during their afternoon class. That can't keep happening!

It seems to me that anyone who takes their mask off in the building either thinks vaccines protect better than they do, or doesn't understand that the virus can linger in the air for hours. 

Vaccines are fantastic, but they're not 100% from the get go. They also lose effectiveness over time, at only 61% effective after 3 months, which is why we're looking at booster shots. The vaccinated are much less likely to carry and spread the virus, but it's still a possibility. Getting a vaccination and then being careless with masking is like buying a Volvo with maximum safety features, then driving blindfolded. You have a much better chance of being safe, but you can still get really hurt and harm others.  

For some reason our PHU suggests that 15 minutes unmasked together is acceptable and will not be enough for spread despite the fact that the virus can be transmitted in "literally one to five seconds." It can be caught with just fleeting contact as students pass through the halls with their masks under their nose (not to mention that they're breathing in any virus on the outside of their mask). The virus can spread across a closed room in less than six minutes and lingers for over six hours. We know that multiple factors affect who gets enough viral load to get sick, so sitting bare-faced in an empty room that recently held thirty unmasked students seems an outrageously unreasonable risk to take. Doesn't it??  

Dr. Ellie Murray explains our four pathways this pandemic might take:

1. endemic - continually occurring disease - easier short-term, but hardest long-term 

2. elimination of disease locally - pretty hard, but we did it for measles and polio

3. eradication of disease globally - very hard, but possible, like with smallpox

4. extinction of the pathogen - hardest and never really done

Eradication gets harder the longer we wait to really stop the spread, and requires the will and resources to do it worldwide. "It would take both leaders and everyday people actively committing to doing what it takes." But we don't really have that, so now we have to choose at what level we control it. Endemic means the virus is controlled at an 'acceptable' level but that differs from place to place and based on the disease. For instance PHUs will jump at one case of the plague, but do little about cold sores. Our task now is to choose that number. Murray explains, "Pandemics end when we decide how much death and disease we're satisfied with. I don't know about you, but for me--this is too much death." (from here)


Owen Gray said...

You have a difficult row to hoe, Marie. The conditions you work under are much more stressful than the ones I faced.

Marie Snyder said...

It's unbelievable. I actually applied for a secretarial job over the weekend. Just heard that I'm not a good fit for that position. I just need 10-15 hours/week to top up my pension enough to put my last kid through university and pay health care costs for another one.