It is better to learn from others mistakes, than to blindly repeat them

Above is a plot of the number of children being admitted to hospitals in the American state of Alabama, due to infection with COVID-19. This is per day and per 100,000 of the population. To put it into context, the population of England is about 56 million, so three children admitted to hospital per 100,000 is about 1,500 children admitted to hospital each day. The data is from the American Centres for Disease Control COVID-19 dashboard. Note the over 300% rise in hospital admissions in the last week. In the USA school starts earlier than in UK, I think term starts in Alabama in early/mid-August. As you can see, the consequences of the schools reopening on transmission of COVID-19 among children, is dramatic. Many schools in Alabama don’t require masks, I guess many of them are not taking action on ventilation. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is very contagious, and so if you crowd unmasked children together in poorly ventilated classrooms, you get what you see above.

I saw the above plot in a streamed (on YouTube) set of talks and panel discussion: Delta Concerns of U.S. School Reopenings and Reducing Airborne Transmission. The plot was shown by a Boston University academic, Julia Raifman. The talks were a remarkable, and scary watch. Although the mortality rate due to COVID-19 in children is very low, about 1% of children infected are admitted to hospital, and of those, about one in three require intensive care.

Now, England is not Alabama, so when England’s schools open in a couple of weeks time, it is not a given that England will reproduce this explosive growth in infections. But we know what slows the transmission of COVID-19: vaccinations, ventilation, masks, and testing and isolation. The USA is actually ahead of the UK when it comes to vaccinating children, so vaccinations aren’t going to help us. And I don’t see evidence that the government is pushing masks or ventilation, although maybe they plan to test.

American schools opening up before ours, offers us an opportunity to learn from any mistakes they make. I am not sure our government will take that opportunity, which given the size of the mistake we can all see in the plot above, may work out badly for us. Or it may not, it is hard to predict the future, but given the data above, precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools look prudent.

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