To Open or Not to Open?

These days, it feels like you can find a raging debate just about anywhere you look. (I think some of this is due to the fact that so many of us have been cut off from other people, and the forum for discourse has shifted to social media, where people feel entitled to be rude and obnoxious to people they rarely (if ever) interact with in real life.) Yesterday I tackled hydroxychloroquine. Today I’m turning my attention to whether or not we should open schools back up, both K-12 and higher education.

First off, I will say that I don’t think a one size fits all approach would work for the country. Reasonable guidelines could be given at the federal level that could help inform school districts about when a safe reopening could happen and what it should look like when it does, but the actually application of those guidelines would depend on the district in question. There are many, many spots of the country that I don’t feel are ready for a return to school at any level. (Not that my opinion matters, but this is my blog, so . . . )

However, I’m not versed in all the ins and outs of every school across the country. I can speak for what I think should happen in Maine, or at least my corner of it. And in my opinion, schools at every level in Maine should be preparing to reopen. Yes, they should have various contingency plans in place to deal with the various “what ifs” that might occur later in the year, but from where Maine is right now, I can’t see a justifiable reason to remain closed.

There are currently only 421 active cases in the state. Compare this to hot spots like Florida (410,458) or California (319,833), and the difference is clear. True, those are places with much higher populations, but even when you look at cases per million, Maine has had 2,892. Florida has had 21,482. New York? 22,754. California? 12,337. All statistics are taken from Worldometer, a site I’ve been regularly using since this began.

Not only that, the percent of positive tests in Maine is extremely encouraging. According to Johns Hopkins, our 7 day moving average for positive tests is 0.8%. Florida’s in 19.3%. California is 7.2%. The country’s average is 7.8%. For the time being, we appear to be testing robustly, giving us an accurate picture of just how many people in the state have COVID. Overall, only 2 other states are “better off” at the moment: Vermont and Hawaii.

We have done an excellent job of containing COVID and keeping our state safe. Does that mean we will continue to do so? Hopefully. We’re almost through with July now, after all, and even with an influx of tourists, we’ve still stayed on top of things. That doesn’t mean we need to stop being vigilant, but if we stay the course and can keep things level through the end of tourist season, then things look even better. (I recognize that’s a big “if,” which is why I still strongly believe contingency plans should be ready.)

Of course, you could potentially make the case that there are parts of the state that have been worse hit than others. Parts that might want to take a different approach. Cumberland County currently has 274 active cases. York has 84. Androscoggin has 66. Franklin (where I am) has 6. I’m not familiar enough with the other counties to be able to definitively offer an opinion there, but I have a real struggle coming up with a the ability to say schools in Franklin County at any level should be closed because of 6 active cases.

I think you could still come up with ways to protect teachers, staff, or students who are at higher risk, but in my opinion that should be the exception. Yes, this still comes with the constant “this all might change if a huge outbreak happens,” but for now, I feel like moving forward with plans to open is the responsible thing to do. And yet I see many people in the state clamoring to stay closed. I’m sympathetic with the desire to stay safe, and I definitely feel like there are parts of the country where school should stay remote, but for the time being, those arguments don’t seem to apply to the situation we have here.

Let’s keep wearing masks. Keep washing our hands and staying socially distant. But all the studies I’m reading say that when you’re doing that AND testing properly AND the results are promising, then COVID can stay beat. Here’s hoping.

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