This Week in Pandemic Education Policy: Kids More Likely to Get COVID at Home Than School, Questioning Our ‘Kids-Last’ Approach & More Updates

This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

COVID Spread Among Children Is More Likely at Home Than School: A National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (Australia) study of children infected by COVID in New South Wales between Oct. 18 and Dec. 17 “produced ‘reassuring data’ that suggests the majority of cases in children were contracted at home.”

  • “The transmission rate was modestly higher in schools with SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant introductions (3.7%) than in those with SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant introductions (2.4%), but not higher than in early 2021 (3.7%) before high COVID-19 vaccine uptake in adults and children.”
  • Seven schools experienced large outbreaks (more than 10 cases) in that time. Out-of-school activities such as birthday parties, sleepovers, family and friend gatherings and ride-sharing contributed to transmission among children in those schools.”
  • “All adults were required to be fully vaccinated by 1 Nov. 2021. Adolescents aged ≥12 years were encouraged to be vaccinated. Mask use was mandatory for all adults and high-school students and encouraged for primary school students.”
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February 25, 2022 — The Big Three

Opinion: Kids-Last COVID Policy Makes No Sense: Emily Oster in The Atlantic

  • “Local governments are relaxing pandemic restrictions at a dizzying pace, removing mask requirements and vaccine entry rules for businesses. Politicians are generally pushing for a return to normalcy. But for one group, change is not forthcoming: children. … My burning question is simply: Why? I can imagine three arguments in favor of a kids-last approach, none of which I find convincing.”
    • “First, one could argue that ongoing child-specific restrictions are warranted because children need more protection. This is a hard case to make.”
    • “A second possible argument in favor of a kids-last policy is that COVID mitigations work better in child settings than in others. The data don’t support this argument, either.”
    • “A final argument is that, because vaccination rates among children are low, and children under 5 are still not eligible for vaccines, they may have higher case rates, and lowering case rates in this group is important to protect the vulnerable, especially the unvaccinated. Over the past several weeks, however, case rates have been fairly similar across all age groups.”
  • “As mask-optional policies gain currency, I receive more and more anguished messages from parents about how to keep their kids safe in this new environment. This fear is a result, at least in part, of alarmist messaging. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have chosen to emphasize risks to children in a way that is at odds with the choices made by their European counterparts. We could debate whether this was the right choice, but the result is a fear of removing pandemic restrictions for children, even among adults who are not worried about their own health.”
  • “Kids should face fewer restrictions than their parents, not more. But after two years of telling parents to be afraid for their children, policymakers can’t simply turn around and tell them that kids are low risk and everything’s fine.”
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More Than 1 in 3 Children Who Started School in the Pandemic Need ‘Intensive’ Reading Help: Amplify report, EdWeek article and The 74.

  • “Based on data from more than 400,000 students in kindergarten through fifth grades who participated in the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, which Amplify administers.”
  • “At this point in the 2019-20 school year, for example, 58 percent of first-graders were scoring at or above the grade-level goals. This time last year — when only about half of the nation’s schools were offering full-time, in-person learning — 44 percent of first-graders were on track. Now 48 percent are reaching the benchmark.”

The Science Behind Why Children Fare Better With COVID-19: Via The Wall Street Journal

  • “Unlike other respiratory viruses such as the flu or respiratory syncytial virus, SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t hit children nearly as hard as it does adults or the elderly.”
  • “To understand why children fare better than adults against COVID-19, said Kevan Herold, a professor of immunobiology and internal medicine at Yale University, imagine the immune system as a medieval fortress.”
  • “The innate response, which includes mucus in the nose and throat that helps trap harmful microbes, is like the moat, keeping assailants out. Innate immunity also includes proteins and cells that trigger the body’s initial immune response. Dr. Herold likens them to cannonballs launched as the enemy is beginning an invasion.”
  • “A second line of defense, the adaptive immune system, includes T cells and B cells. The adaptive immune system takes longer to initiate a response, but can remember specific weaknesses of past invaders. Think of them as soldiers preparing for battle inside the fortress.”
  • “Innate immunity doesn’t have the same kind of memory. It relies on patterns associated with harmful microbes more generally. Immunologists have found that children’s immune systems have higher levels of some innate molecules and increased innate responses compared with adults.”
  • “The Herolds’ study comparing 65 young patients and 60 adults with COVID-19 in New York City found that children were less reliant on the adaptive immune system than adults, likely because they had a stronger innate response.”

Federal Updates

Education Department: Released final guidance for states, school districts and schools in implementing accountability and school improvement requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

City & State News

Colorado: Aurora Public Schools introduces partnership to combat the “mental health crisis.”

  • “APS introduced a new tool in January this year that will allow all 38,000-plus students to receive free mental health care. Hazel Health is an online resource that provides one intake session and then up to six free sessions — all virtually, allowing for students to get quick, responsive care to this ‘mental health crisis.’
  • “‘We knew that our community partners that include Aurora Mental Health and HealthOne who have school-based therapists staffed in our buildings that their caseloads were filling up within months where it had taken, you know, half a year, almost the whole year for their caseloads to fill up,’ said Kim Kaspar, APS mental health and counseling coordinator.”

Illinois: Schools are no longer required to mandate masks for their students, according to a court ruling.

Maryland: State Board of Education votes 12 to 2 to lift mask mandate, but still needs legislative approval.

Massachusetts: Greater Commonwealth Virtual School remote learning enrollment cap increased to 1,200 students.

New York: Homeschooling nearly doubled in NYC since pandemic’s start.

COVID-19 Research

Omicron Was More Widespread than Delta: New York Times analysis

Do Masks Really Harm Kids?: Via National Geographic

  • A look at what the science says about how masks affect breathing, language development and social development
  • “While lifting mask mandates might make sense during times when local cases are low, [Thomas Murray, a pediatrician at the Yale University School of Medicine] says that schools need to be willing to go back to masking if a harmful new variant emerges or if they start to see a new surge in cases. There’s no magic number to determine when to lift mandates, he says — it can differ based on a variety of factors that can mitigate transmission, such as whether schools have enough space for students to spread out or whether it’s warm enough to open classroom windows.”
  • Daniel Buck with an opposing view at the Fordham Institute.

The Effectiveness of Government Masking Mandates on COVID-19 County-Level Case Incidence Across the U.S.: New study in Health Affairs

  • “In this observational study of matched cohorts from 394 U.S. counties between March 21 and Oct. 20, 2020, we estimated the association between county-level public masking mandates and daily COVID-19 case incidence.”
  • “Although benefits were not equally distributed in all regions, masking mandates conferred benefit in reducing community case incidence during an early period of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Experts Expecting a Tidal Wave of Cardiovascular Events: Via The Washington Post

  • “A pivotal study that looked at health records of more than 153,000 U.S. veterans published this month in Nature Medicine found that their risk of cardiovascular disease of all types increased substantially in the year following infection, even when they had mild cases.”
  • “We are expecting a tidal wave of cardiovascular events in the coming years from direct and indirect causes of COVID,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association.

We May Not Need Another Booster Shot for a While: Via the NYT

  • A “flurry of new studies” finds that people who have received a booster shot of COVID vaccine may not need another “for many months, and perhaps not for years.”
  • “Three doses of a COVID vaccine — or even just two — are enough to protect most people from serious illness and death for a long time, the studies suggest.”
  • “‘We’re starting to see now diminishing returns on the number of additional doses,’ said John Wherry, director of the Institute for immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. Although people over 65 or at high risk of illness may benefit from a fourth vaccine dose, it may be unnecessary for most people, he added.”

Ivermectin Futile for Mild to Moderate COVID-19: Via CIDRAP: “Early treatment with the antiparasitic drug ivermectin does not lower the risk of severe disease when given to patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, according to a study today in JAMA Internal Medicine.”


Crisis Breeds Innovation: Pandemic Pods and the Future of Education: New report from CRPE (stories in EdWeek, The 74 and Marketplace)

  • Families valued pods’ student-centered learning environments.
  • Families participating in pods that primarily relied on remote instruction were less satisfied with their experience.
  • Pods brought families closer together — often for better, sometimes for worse.
  • Families tended to pod with “like-minded” people, but some sought to increase diversity and inclusion.
  • Instructors turned to pods to weather a crisis, but many also perceived a career opportunity.
  • Instructors gained freedom in their teaching and opportunity to build close, personal relationships with students.
  • “School and district resistance cut off pods from critical supports and services. While some parents and instructors shared positive stories of collaboration between the pod and individual teachers who provided remote learning, most stories about pods’ relationship with the school district were negative. Pod families described “aggressive emails” and “vengeful” actions implicitly or explicitly discouraging the formation of pods. One district’s policy aimed to coerce in-school learning by not counting virtual learning toward attendance.”

Impact of COVID-19 on Public and Private Elementary and Secondary Education: IES released the results of the 2020-21 National Teacher and Principal Survey:

  • 63% percent of private school teachers during spring 2020 reported using scheduled real-time lessons that allowed students to ask questions through a video or audio call, compared with only 47% of public school teachers.
  • Public charter school teachers also held scheduled sessions with groups of students to provide support, held scheduled one-on-one sessions with individual students and held scheduled office hours with students at higher rates than their traditional public school counterparts.
  • 61% of private school teachers reported that they had real-time interactions with over three-quarters of their students during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. This was about twice the rate of public school teachers (32%).
  • More from The 74

New Twist in Pandemic’s Impact on Schools: Substitutes in Camouflage: Via NYT

  • “For the last month, dozens of soldiers and airmen and women in the New Mexico National Guard have been deployed to classrooms throughout the state to help with crippling pandemic-related staff shortages. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also enlisted civilian state employees — herself included — to volunteer as substitute teachers.”
  • “When the call came from the governor, the New Mexico National Guard’s commander in chief, Brig. Gen. Jamison Herrera, knew he would have no trouble recruiting volunteers for Operation Supporting Teachers and Families (S.T.A.F.)”
  • “The guard estimated that 50 of its members would volunteer; by this week, the state education department had issued licenses to 96.”

State-by-State Report Card on Mental Health: The Hopeful Futures Campaign assessed how well schools are supporting student mental health. Report with state-by-state data.

  • “Only Idaho and Washington, D.C., exceed the nationally recommended ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students. In five states — West Virginia, Missouri, Texas, Alaska and Georgia — each school psychologist serves significantly more than 4,000 students.”

Urgency of Equity: Atoolkit “developed by a coalition of public health experts and grassroots organizations to help educators, parents and communities advocate for safer, equitable schools, and separate fact from fiction about COVID-19 protections.” Seems to be a response to the Urgency of Normal toolkit.

Broadband Playbooks: From America Achieves:

A Scan of State Policies to Support Equitable Social, Emotional and Academic Development: Via CASEL and EdTrust.

Confronting the School Staffing Crisis With Creative, Community Solutions: Transcend’s Jenee Henry Wood in Edsurge.

Code.org + Coldplay: Are teaming up to inspire students to code and dance.

…And on a Lighter Note

This Reporter Getting Interrupted By His Mother: Is so great.

Just a Whale: And her dolphin best friend playing together.

ICYMI @The74

Weekend Reads: In case you missed them, our top five stories of the week:

For even more COVID policy and education news, subscribe to John Bailey’s daily briefing via Substack.

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

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