Uncertainty continues to plague school reopening debate
ONE OF THE most disturbing of the shockingly wide range of symptoms experienced by people with COVID-19 is often described as “brain fog,” a lingering inability to think clearly that can extend to difficulty tackling even the most basic tasks of daily life.
But the challenge of not always being able to sort things out clearly applies just as well to our whole understanding of the virus that has upended life across the globe. In a gripping new PBS “Frontline” documentary on China’s early efforts to hold back information on the novel coronavirus that first emerged there, New York Times reporter Sui-Lee Wee reflects on the difficulty — and missteps — reporting in real-time on the upheaval set in motion by a tiny pathogen with incomplete information available. It was, she said, a situation not unlike the “fog of war.”
Almost a year after coronavirus ground many aspects of our daily routine to halt, that fog continues to cloud some of the most basic questions we face, including whether it’s safe for schools to resume in-person instruction.
The weight of evidence — and preponderance of views offered by public health experts — is that schools are not a significant site of virus transmission and could safely reopen, even as communities continue to deal with COVID-19 cases. A new study from Wisconsin, reported last week, seemed to support that idea, finding little evidence of virus spread in 17 schools that reopened with strict precautions in place. But the education news site Chalkbeat reports that the same week saw another study from Wisconsin, which received far less attention, claiming 5,700 COVID cases in the state last fall that were linked to outbreaks in K-12 schools or childcare settings.
The study showing more than 5,000 cases tied to school settings also didn’t specify whether cases were tied to regular school settings or other activities like sports that may be riskier. It also didn’t include information on what safety measures schools had in place, so it’s possible the risk comes mainly from inattention to basic mitigation measures like masks and distancing. The study might, therefore, not really be evidence at all that schools can’t safely reopen.
Of course, we want more information, not less. But because our state of knowledge on many things related to the virus is far from perfect, the flood of information that is emerging can sometimes appear to be more confusing than clarifying, especially if not considered in more detail.
“Similar methods that showed little evidence of in-school spread in the first study found quite a bit of spread connected to schools statewide” in the second study, says the Chalkbeat report.
Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, told Chalkbeat she thinks the evidence leans toward the view that schools can reopen safely, with the right mitigation measures in place. But she says it’s an oversimplification to say the virus can’t spread in schools.
“It’s complicated. It’s usually not a 100 character message,” she said, something that seems true for many aspects of the pandemic.
The Baker administration is dragging its feet on the Medicaid termination process for three nursing homes, with two of the homes still in limbo six months after they challenged the state’s decision.
State pension fund gains a whopping $10 billion in 2020.
Opinion: Kim Borman of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council suggests the pandemic is forcing a reckoning on how women are treated in the workplace.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Lawmakers refile the Safe Communities Act to prevent state and local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. (Gloucester Daily Times)
GBH reporter Mike Deehan calls a group of activists seeking to change the rules of the Massachusetts House a “dark money” group because they don’t disclose all of their donors.
Rockport town officials seek to remove the town’s fire chief over allegations of financial mismanagement and neglect of duty. (Gloucester Daily Times)
The Fairhaven Board of Health is debating whether state coronavirus guidelines allow vendors at a marketplace to sell food. (Standard-Times)
Newly elected state Sen. Adam Gomez resigns from the Springfield City Council, citing the demands of his new job. The council now has to fill his seat. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)
US Rep. Ayanna Pressley says the uneven distribution of coronavirus immunizations in ways that short-change communities of color amounts to “vaccine redlining.” (Boston Herald) In a sign that it’s more complicated than just making sure vaccine sites are located in minority communities, the mass vaccination program set up at the Reggie Lewis Track in Roxbury drew a mostly white crowd of seniors on its first day of operation. (Boston Globe)
Ron Covey died of suicide at 31, after suffering a life-altering brain injury at 17. In their search for answers, his family is donating his brain to a Boston University program studying traumatic head injury. (Eagle-Tribune)
Led by Sen. John Velis, 81 lawmakers sign a letter criticizing the Baker administration’s proposal for a “reimagined” Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Critics want the new building to have more beds than is currently being proposed. (MassLive)
While the White House and Senate Democrats are in talks with Republicans over a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill, Democrats are also gearing up for a possible procedural move to pass a big stimulus package without Republican support. (New York Times)
Impeachment managers argue former president Donald Trump is “singularly responsible” for the attack on the Capitol, while his representatives say Congress cannot impeach a president who is no longer in office. (NPR)
A growing rift is dividing congressional Republicans as GOP senators press for the party to distance itself from conspiracy-theory-driven Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom Mitch McConnell has called “a cancer for the Republican Party and our country.” (Washington Post)
Joe Battenfeld says if Kim Janey performs well as Boston’s acting mayor, “it will give her an advantage her rivals can’t compete against.” (Boston Herald)
Could Boston see an exodus of companies and talent to lower-cost, lower-tax states now that the pandemic has shown that lots of people can work effectively from most anywhere? (Boston Globe)
Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon, replaced by Andy Jassy who runs the company’s cloud computing division. (NPR)
Uber is acquiring Boston-based booze delivery service Drizly for $1.1 billion. (Boston Globe)
A look at the Brockton native who led a Reddit group to buy stock in gaming company Gamestop that caused its price to surge. (The Enterprise)
Andover school officials say students will return fully in person when there is “herd immunity” from vaccinations, a standard that confused and angered parents, leading to a quick clarification by the superintendent. (Eagle-Tribune)
The words TRUTH BE TOLD were spelled out in 21-foot-high letters across a building in Kinderhook, New York, prompting a spirited debate about whether it was a sign, subject to town regulations, or art. Officials decided it was art and not subject to regulation. (Berkshire Eagle)
Ten Revere city councilors appeal to the Saugus Board of Health to block an expansion of the Wheelabrator ash landfill. (Daily Item)
A group of citizens is installing air-quality monitors throughout Quincy to shed light on the impact of a natural gas compressor station. (Patriot Ledger)
Environmental advocates are pushing – again – for a statewide plastic bag ban. (Salem News)
A Massachusetts state trooper accused of assaulting a woman and fleeing from police in New Hampshire is in a fight over bail. (WBUR)
Notices are going out to around 27,000 people convicted of drunk driving that they may be eligible for a new trial due to problems with the state’s breathalyzer test. (Salem News)
Worcester city officials promised to reform the police department, and MassLive looks at what has actually been done.
The Boston archdiocese’s public listing of priests accused of sexual abuse does not include some of those involved in cases in which the archdiocese reached settlements with victims. (Boston Globe)
Current and former Springfield city councilors are asking the US Department of Justice to issue a consent decree and force the city to reform its troubled police department. (MassLive)PASSINGS
Kay Bourne, long-time arts editor of the Bay State Banner, dies at 82. (Bay State Banner)