In his big omicron speech and barky mini-press conference Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden said some words that will sound almost soothing to the ears of those of us who have been advocating since the summer of 2020 to keep public K-12 schools open, given that “the risk of severe outcomes to kids from coronavirus infection is low, and the risks to kids from being out of school are high,” in the words of Harvard health professor Joseph G. Allen in the New York Times.
“We know a lot more today than we did back in March of 2020,” Biden pointed out at around the six-minute mark of his speech. He went on to say:
“Look, the science is clear, and overwhelming. We know how to keep our kids safe from COVID-19 in school. K through 12 schools should be open. And that safety is increased if schools require all adults who work in the schools to get vaccinated, and take the safety measures that the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has recommended, including masking. I got Congress to pass billions of dollars in school improvements—ventilation and social distancing. School should be safer than ever from COVID-19. And just Friday, the CDC issued test-to-stay guidelines….COVID-19 is scary, but the science is clear: Children are as safe in school as they are anyplace, assuming the appropriate precautions have been taken. And they’ve already been funded.”
But despite that $197 billion and counting in extra federal COVID funding over the past 21 months, an increasing number of public K-12 schools keep on closing, at least in little spurts. Why? Well, if we’re being a bit catty (if truthful), there has been some opportunistic, last-minute, teacher-friendly days off conjured up near weekends and federal holidays.
But the reality is that the rapid omicron surge in positive cases, especially throughout the Northeast and Midwest, is putting strain on school systems that have not figured out a way to translate money into student testing and emergency staffing capacity.
Democratic-controlled (and teachers union-influenced) states and cities have been the most closed (and most likely to include masking mandates); Republican-controlled polities have been more open and less masked. And private schools everywhere have been more open than their government-run counterparts.
There is every reason to suspect that this pattern will reassert itself during the omicron surge. Blue states have more teacher (and sometimes even student) vaccine mandates, bigger labor shortages, and more scale-thumbing by unions. To say something facially absurd yet annoyingly true, the places that voted for Joe Biden will be the most likely to not deliver on the president’s aspiration that “K through 12 schools should be open.”
Read more at Reason.