Thursday, September 1, 2022

On Peanut Butter and Covid in Schools

A woman on twitter posted an unfortunate tweet, I assumed satirically, that a good solution to keep immunocompromised kids safe from Covid while they eat lunch indoors is to send them with a peanut butter sandwich. Then they'll be made to eat lunch in an isolated room to keep others safe from them. 

The poster was summarily lambasted, and has since deleted the offending suggestion.

I responded early on, before the shit hit the fan (a bit expanded here):

I don't at all support doing this, but it does show how differently we react to different risks. One is a risk to about 5% of people, causing 82 Ontario deaths in the last 25 years, but it has immediate effects. The other is a risk to everyone and caused 68 Ontario deaths this week, but more slowly.
To clarify a bit, those 82 Ontario deaths aren't just from peanut butter in schools, but from all cases of anaphylaxis. Deaths from nuts specifically total 18, but it's not clear where those fatalities happened or the age range. Almost all, 17, were from 1986-2000, and only 1 after that largely because of education campaigns around allergies and Epipens, and the banning of nuts in elementary schools. Changes came from Sabrina's Law, which was passed in 2005 following the 2003 death of Sabrina Shannon from exposure to dairy protein through tongs used both for poutine and french fries. I'm not discounting concerns about anaphylaxis at all. We absolutely must remain vigilant about protecting kids with allergies. But we should also notice how much we can reduce cases from contamination when we put our minds to it! 

In 2015, we passed Ryan's Law, which ensures that all students must be allowed to carry their inhalers with them, after 8-year-old Ryan Gibbons died because he didn't have his inhaler in hand when it was needed. Over 150 people die each year of asthma-related causes. 

In Ontario this year, we've been averaging about 88 deaths each week. The deaths don't happen in front of us, though so we're able to remain divorced from that reality. Most of the deaths are not school aged children, but there have been 17 children under 19 die of Covid in Ontario in the last two years. 

We banned nut products because of one death, and we ensure children can have an inhaler in their possession at all times because of one death, but we've taken out ALL precautions despite 17 deaths.

Furthermore, Ryan's Law stipulates that schools must "reduce and/or manage student exposure to triggers," which should clearly apply to fatal viruses like Covid as well. 

I believe that the original post was being as satirical as much as this one by immunologist Alan Baxter:
"New rule: Everyone who catches Covid should make an appointment to see their MP five days after the onset of symptoms."
I don't think Baxter wants to bring harm to MPs, or is encouraging people actually spread this virus! He's aiming to show the inanity of suggesting people are safe to return to work after 5 days when we know that many people are most infections then, and many are contagious for 14 or more days! We should be getting two negative rapid tests, 24-hours apart, before returning to work or school. 

But here's a response to that original poster that is emblematic of the rest: 

"Adult stupidity is no reason to put a kid's life in jeopardy. You do not EVER put a child's safety at risk - especially another person's to prove a political point. I don't know how much flack the province/board/school is giving them - this is a line you do not ever cross." 

There are calls from people who hate masks for anyone immunocompromised or asthmatic or disabled to just stay home to avoid Covid. A similar sentiment arises with nut restrictions in school from time to time, but that's largely shouted down - as this original tweet was.  How dare anyone suggest kids with allergies stay home from school or risk being put in danger's way. Schools must be made safe for anyone with an allergy or asthma. Absolutely. But can we please get the same level of vitriol when it's suggested that kids who might suffer a permanent disability or death from Covid also just stay home - because, really, that's all of them. They are ALL at risk. 

And what we need to protect them?? Mask mandates. 

Vaccinations help, but for a limited time and less and less as the virus mutates. Improving ventilation and filtration will also go really far to clean the air in schools, and we have to get on that as a permanent solution that has so many other side benefits, but that's not going to happen by next Tuesday. Masks can. 

I put on a mask before leaving the house if I'm going to work or to run errands, and then I just forget about it. I mask and relax!! My kids are more bothered by being in the minority than I am, so we must make it less stigmatizing by making everyone wear one. My kids are also more annoyed because they're used to eating and drinking almost constantly. That's a generational thing - we used to just eat and drink three times each day instead of on an on-going basis - so I understand that part taking some getting used to. But it's possible, and it's necessary to prevent the loss of one more child's life or quality of life. Right!?!

If we can save a life of a child this easily, why wouldn't we??

ETA: Hear a discussion of this post at VoicEd Radio from about 14 to 22 minutes.

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