Home Education Reload your strategies now, prepare for the future

Reload your strategies now, prepare for the future

Masks may not be needed for children in communities with high vaccination and low case rates.

The rapidly receding wave of Covid-19 Omicron provides a moment to pause and reflect on our pandemic strategy and make the necessary, and in some cases, long overdue, adjustments. It is also time to prepare for future pandemic risks. As we move forward, it is important for policymakers and health authorities to analyze which measures have worked, which policies have failed, and which actions have benefited too little from health care compared to the costs they have placed on families and too often, on children.

The end of the wave may not necessarily be the end of a pandemic. The Omicron was usually softer than other options, but its transmissibility made it much more deadly than many believe. More than 150,000 deaths were reported during the surge, compared with 132,000 during the Delta wave, and four times as many children were hospitalized at Omicron than at Delta. Sub-option BA.2 also undermines school performance in the United Kingdom: one in five schools reports that 15 per cent of their teachers are absent, and student absenteeism has tripled in less than two weeks to 202,000, a trend that could portend similar failures in the United States. states. One study found that during the rise of Omicron, the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid infection in children aged 5-11 years fell to 12 percent from 68 percent, and protection against hospitalization fell to 48 percent from 100 percent over the same period. There is still a risk that a new option may emerge that evades all or most vaccine protection.

On the other hand, communities now have greater protection against serious diseases as a result of immunity gained through infection or vaccination. Vaccines tended to be very effective, especially with boosters. For those in the hospital, new antiviral pills and therapeutic treatments are helping to further reduce the risk of death. The national testing system, though far from where it should be, has improved significantly even a few months ago. All of this has led to Covid becoming less deadly over time and rapidly approaching the same mortality as seasonal flu.

It should be emphasized that children are still at much lower risk than adults. An unvaccinated child has a lower risk of contracting a serious Covid case than a vaccinated 70-year-old. A review of more than 130 studies in March 2021 found that schools are not super-common and that schools can be rebuilt in a way that protects both teachers and students. In July 2021, former CDC Director Tom Frieden reviewed the scientific literature and concluded: “Data from around the world show that children distribute Covid-19 less than adults; that children with Covid-19 are less likely than adults to be severely ill; and that personal learning has not led to a significant increase in transmission in society when schools have mitigation measures in place ”. There are no studies that would fundamentally change this assessment.

Children are thankfully rid of the worst Covid, but our policy still treats them as if they are in the greatest danger. Schools were the first to close and open last, and now students who were disguised first are the last to be exposed. We face a completely different set of risks ahead than in the first weeks of the pandemic. Our strategies, especially with regard to schools, must reflect this new reality.

Clearer triggers

Omicron’s declining surge provides an opportunity to reset mitigation measures that were already in place, including camouflage and quarantine policies. The two principles should be guided by the reintroduction of restrictions and safeguards.

First, mitigation practices need to depend on the context of the community. Masks may not be needed by children in high-vaccination and low-incidence areas, but they may be an important first line of defense in areas with low vaccination rates, high morbidity, and higher hospitalizations. These decisions are best made locally. Government mandates that require or prohibit mitigation measures too often deprive communities of their authority and make it difficult for local organizations to respond quickly to changing conditions on the ground.

The recently updated CDC method for determining risk levels in counties now takes into account hospitalization rates and the number of hospital beds used, not just the number of new cases. This change is long overdue: back in July 2021, the number of cases began to separate from the number of hospitalizations and deaths. The model can be further strengthened by including a population vaccination rate to help assess risk. British Columbia has done just that with an easy-to-understand chart that assesses hospitalization risk based on vaccination status, age and other risk factors.

Second, the CDC and public health authorities need to establish clear, easy-to-understand indicators that trigger the introduction of mitigation measures and, last but not least, initiate the repeal of those measures. These indicators should automatically end after a certain period of time, perhaps 30 days, to force the authorities to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures, take into account any new research that has emerged, and adjust the strategy according to changing circumstances. This will expand mitigation measures, but will force the authorities to justify why the continuation is justified.

Strengthening community readiness

As our experience with Omicron and Delta has taught us, Covid-19 variants can appear suddenly and spread quickly. Both waves caught schools by surprise, and student learning was disrupted by prolonged quarantines. A recent bipartisan poll found that children missed an average of 21 days of school this school year due to quarantine. Instead of receiving instructions live, many students found themselves sent home with paper bags.

There is no guarantee that this year we will not see another wave of the virus or there will be another more problematic option. Leaders should make the most of this time to strengthen their training and make sure that schools are not taken by surprise again.

Consider how coastal communities are preparing for hurricanes. Before the hurricane season, no one knows how many severe storms will occur, how intense they can be and where they will land. Thus, communities use multi-layered preparedness measures, which include strengthening building codes, developing plans for students who may miss school, and preparing mandatory evacuation plans if needed.

Similarly, we have little opportunity to predict Covid-19 waves and their intensity. Over the next few months, schools need to strengthen their defenses – for example, by improving ventilation systems and developing more robust Covid testing plans to support pre-stay testing programs. Leaders cannot estimate the number of students who will need isolation or quarantine, but they can prepare now to ensure that all students who have to stay home are guaranteed to receive live instruction within 24 hours of graduation. And perhaps most importantly, community leaders can work to increase the number of students vaccinated by encouraging parents to talk to their pediatricians.

Strengthening the nation’s political response

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, our political response has consistently been too slow in adapting to changing circumstances and new research. Two years after the pandemic, the federal government is still unable to provide reliable estimates of how many schools have opened or how many students have been quarantined. Of the 56,000 grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health in 2020, two were allocated to study the effectiveness of masks and two to study Covid transmission in schools. It took the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Transportation seven months to address regulatory issues related to the shortage of school bus drivers. And the CDC’s recommendations continue to lag steadily behind new Covid-19 studies, the risks the virus poses to children, and the mitigation measures needed to contain it.

There are three steps politicians can take to strengthen our political response. First, they can recognize that better data is the basis for a better response, and act accordingly. Policymakers should require schools to report positive cases, the number of students in quarantine or distance learning, and mitigation measures in place at the school. Such data will help better track future virus waves and will help study the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, pre-stay testing programs and other protective measures. One of the reasons for such intense discussions about the effectiveness of masks in schools now is that we have not gathered the data needed to find out how well masks work in school settings. The financial burden of collecting and reporting this information is more than offset by the $ 280 billion in federal Covid funding that has already been allocated. Organizations like Code for America and US Digital Services can also help states build capacity through improved data systems.

Second, our country needs a better system to help leaders understand the growing body of Covid-19 research and related mitigation strategies. Many studies have limitations in how their results should be interpreted. Preprints are readily available and they can be confusing or misleading without proper context and interpretation, especially since people can usually find multiple studies that support any position they already hold. We need to better summarize the research and the picture they paint together. This can be achieved through an interagency task force consisting of researchers from the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Third, policymakers need to make more decisions related to Covid, through a deliberate political process that can assess trade-offs between different courses of action. In this way, the government manages almost all other policy issues, from economic issues to foreign relations. Decisions are rarely made by a single agency, but are discussed among cabinet members who have different perspectives on assessing the costs and benefits of different decisions. We need more of this debate not only at the federal level but also among state leaders to help develop pandemic policy strategies that better match the health benefits compared to other social, economic, and educational costs.

The end of the Omicron surge is an opportunity. This gives us the opportunity to rethink our pandemic response strategies and prepare for the future. And it makes it possible to return to a certain degree of normalcy. Among other things, this moment throws us with a new urgency to commit to building a system that serves all students with their academic renewal. How will our leaders withstand the challenge of today? Students are counting on us and we should not let them down.

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