Newsflash: We Never Needed to Close Schools or Mask Kids During COVID

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New Jersey students’ “staggering” learning loss during COVID school closures is not news. Here’s what is: those school closures and months of remote instruction were unnecessary. Instead, New Jersey and the rest of the country could have kept schools open the whole time.

That’s according to newly-revealed research from American medical experts collated in Tablet in a piece called “The COVID Cult Did Lasting Damage to Our Kids.” Feel free to disagree–tell us in the comments—but here’s a drill-down:

  • The way “bad COVID-19 policy choices” exacerbated inequality was entirely predictable and “perversely led many public school systems to try to hide their mistakes by dismantling programs for gifted and talented students along with entrance tests and other standardized testing regimens—piling on more bad policy choices that deprive economically disadvantaged students of opportunity.”
  • These results came about from “the public health establishment’s conscious choice to eschew rational cost-benefit analysis in favor of pet cultural theories and political gamesmanship.” For those who applied the scientific method to the available evidence, the consequences were already clear just a few weeks into the pandemic. “It was not at all true that people in healthcare and public health were unaware of what was going on with children,” explained Dr. Jeanne Noble, director of the COVID-19 response tream for University of California “They were not ignorant.”
  • We had plenty of comparative data:When Sweden kept schools open for children up to age 16 without masks in the spring of 2020, for example, not a single child died, and teachers were not at elevated risk for severe COVID-19.” Denmark opened its schools after just five weeks of closures and everyone was fine. Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg told journalist Alex Gutentag, “’It felt monumental because I thought this meant it would also happen in the U.S. soon.’ Yet as Dr. Høeg watched schools reopen in Norway, Scotland, Finland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Australia, and South Korea, she was increasingly concerned as many parts of the United States refused to take similar steps.”
  • Dr. Høeg was the lead author in a study of schools in Wood County, Wisconsin, that was published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” in January 2021. The study found that COVID-19 incidence in open schools was 37% lower than in the surrounding community. In other words, students and families were safer if schools were open. She thought that new data would lead to the CDC to lower restrictions in schools but instead it came out with “stricter reopening guidelines following our study…[which] were not based on the available science but seemed to be pulled out of the air.”
  • “Dr. Høeg came to learn that the CDC had considered input from teachers’ unions over the very science the organization had published in its own journal….’The push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny,’ the Chicago Teachers Union’s Twitter account tweeted in December 2020.”
  • We didn’t really need to make kids wear masks: “September 2021, when the schools debate had largely shifted from reopening to masks, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona took to Twitter to portray the Wisconsin schools study as evidence for the efficacy of masking in school. This was an incorrect interpretation: There was no unmasked control group in the study, so it could not be used to determine if masking affected transmission.”
  • We knew how much learning loss kids would suffer “from data on snow days, floods in Thailand in 2011, and teacher strikes in Argentina in the 1980s, all of which showed that long breaks in schooling would have significant impacts on present and future student achievement. Yet the U.S. public health establishment failed to consider all previous research on education while largely dismissing any dissenting scientists and doctors. As a result, the United States is now faced with an academic, social, and psychological disaster that will reverberate through society for years, if not decades, to come.”

What are some signs of that disaster?

  • School closures “permanently altered the relationship of many students to school.”
  • One survey found that the rate of chronically absent students nationwide is now 22%, 2.7 times what it was before school closures. In New York City, 4 out of 10 students are now chronically absent; in Los Angeles nearly half of all students are chronically absent. These statistics indicate an instructional system that in many cases has simply ceased to function.”
  • “The number of ER visits in 2021 by adolescent girls for suspected suicide attempts was 51% higher than during the same period in early 2019. Skyrocketing violence statistics involving young men, including a spate of shootings, may also be traceable to mental illnesses exacerbated by the enforced isolation of COVID-19.”
  • “The available numbers tell a worrying story of educational slippage that is likely to keep large numbers of kids from acquiring the basic skills, both intellectual and social, that they will need to hold decent jobs.”
  • Those who claim they had no idea of the damage school closures would cause is, to one doctor, “the height of gaslighting.” It’s not enough just to document these harms, he said. “Apologies are in order. Accountability is in order.” What this accountability might look like is still an open question.

Another doctor says,“In my better moments, I’m trying to think of ways to be constructive. And I think the question is, How do we start to repair some of the damage we’ve done to our children?”

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