Should We Close Schools Down Permanently Now?

Schools Closed

It hopefully would strike us as absurd to decide never to re-open schools due to fears of communicable disease, but keeping them closed now is no less absurd.

As we move closer toward what is normally back to school season, which drives a lot of additional shopping as parents purchase the multitude of things that are on their shopping lists for their school aged kids, the lack of demand for this right now with so much up in the air is one more thing that is set to stymie our recovery from the financial impact of our mass quarantining to try to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The financial implications of keeping our schools closed on account of this is considerably greater than this, when we account for all the people this will keep out of the workforce, not just those who are employed in the process of educating kids, but especially from all those parents who will not be able to work because they need to stay home now to look after their school-age children.

As hard as we have been trying collectively to ignore the financial implications of decisions like this, this ignorance does not serve to diminish the punishing costs that this practice incurs, and whether or not we end up coming to the conclusion that what we are doing is justified on a cost benefit analysis, you can’t just dispense with the analysis part no matter how much we may insist on doing so.

We can imagine a scenario where we would want to pay anything to avoid, situations where the cost of not doing so would be so extreme, like paying a trillion dollars to a terrorist group that has planted nuclear bombs throughout the country and we will all die if they detonate them, and there’s no other way to stop this from happening but paying the ransom.

Even in a case like this, we still need to do a cost benefit analysis, the trillion dollars versus everyone being killed. This turns out to be an easy call, but other things of a much less dastardly nature, this will require us to delve into the matter more deeply, and always requires us to at least ponder the matter from the view of rationality, lest we act irrationally.

If we’re going to fork over a trillion dollars to prevent something, and especially if we are open to paying ten times more than this, as we have decided with addressing this pandemic, we can’t treat this the same way as we would approach Armageddon, where no cost is too great, because in reality the cost can end up being far too great in relation to the benefits.

Our willingness to ignore the costs of a response is what stands out more than anything with all the quarantining and other measures that we have taken to reduce exposure to COVID, and between the viral pandemic and the pandemic of irrationality that it has caused as a side-effect, the irrationality has been the bigger threat of the two by far, both more widespread and more dangerous.

We can only know these things if we are able to step away from the psychological side of this pandemic, and as fervent as companies have been to come up with a vaccine against the virus, what we need even more is a vaccine that will inoculate us against our great reluctance to think a little more about what we are doing.

This is not about the result of our analysis being on one side or the other, whether we need to quarantine more or less at any given point, it is about just being willing to have the discussion. The bias against discussion has been so strong that anyone merely bringing this up is treated with utter contempt, where even the mere thought of their being a price for all this is somehow seen as abhorrent.

This is what makes the consensus toward our response so dangerous, similar to a blind and deaf person willing to cross a busy road just because he or she needs to get to the other side but with a complete lack of awareness of the risk. They may be hungry, and they do need to eat, but the risk of getting run over and encountering a worse fate should at least be in the conversation, as should potentially safer ways to cross such as using a crosswalk.

We might see a dog dying in a hot car, the economic consequences of breaking a side window is well justified and saving the dog is the sensible and humane thing to do, but we wouldn’t want to bash every car window in the lot just in case there might be a dog there, because in the overwhelming majority of cases there won’t be a dog involved.

We don’t do these things, and would be criminally responsible if we did, and the reason is that such an act would be way out of proportion to the risk, randomly breaking car windows without even bothering to first check for dogs in distress, just in case.

The important thing to note here is that we never just act without seeking proportion, as we do so with at least the sense of the risk that we are looking to prevent and whether our actions are proportionate to the consequences of not acting. It is not enough to see a dog in the back seat of a car to break the windows, we need enough danger present such as it being a hot day and wouldn’t do such a thing on a cold day with the dog in no danger.

There are risks involved of some sort in everything we do. The way that we manage these risks need to be aligned with an estimation of the risk to ever be able to decide. While the risk of someone walking into our home if the door is unlocked is very low, it’s easy to lock our doors so that action is at least reasonably proportionate, as the risk are low but so are the costs.

Every time we drive our car, we put ourselves in danger of life and limb and put our car in danger as well, but this risk is low enough that the benefits of driving clearly outweighs it. There are cases, such as if we are impaired, that it has been decided that we are not permitted to drive legally, and whether or not we’ve done a good job at assessing the costs and benefits of where we set our limits, the idea itself is not that unreasonable, as people can become so impaired that they may represent an unacceptable danger to themselves and others.

When we seek to overweigh the risk involved, or even worse, just ignore the consequences of the limitations that we place, this always involves a loss of utility that simply is not justified. We may want to insure our newer cars against collision damage, but this would not make sense if it cost as much per month for the insurance as the car is worth.

Whenever we give something up to mitigate risk, we need to always account for the loss of utility involved, such that the way that we choose to manage the risk adds and not subtracts from overall utility.

Utility Measures the Entire Effect Upon the Human Experience

When economists use the term utility, they are referring to more than just monetary costs, as we need to account for non-financial losses as well such as people’s heath deteriorating from being quarantined or kids missing out on education while kept out of school.

Trying to work out the costs and benefits of not opening schools in the fall is a huge task and one well beyond the scope of this article, but someone needs to be working these things out to at least give us some sense of the overall cost of this versus the benefits that this may convey.

Those who are in favor of such a thing have done a tremendous job in steering us away from pursuing rationality more, insisting that their unexamined opinions be just accepted without question, where just pointing out that there may be some risk involved is enough, without being willing to examine what the risk really is, let alone compare it to the costs, which are of no concern to them.

This is not an exaggeration, and the recent removal of a post by President Trump by Facebook and Twitter for trying to spread lies by merely citing that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19 shows us just how far they are willing to go to prevent intelligent discussion. This is a statement of fact that is even beyond question, and this goes to show how closed this issue is in the media, such that they will even censor the President from just stating that the risk to children from this virus is extremely low.

These social media sites are simultaneously claiming that they do not see themselves as arbiters of truth, which normally pertains to issues where the truth of something may be under discussion with people citing reasons why they believe something is true or not, like for instance whether vaccines are safe like the authorities claim or whether they may be too dangerous.

Their version of the truth takes a side and then censors contrary opinions, where those in favor of something may claim that the science supports their view even though it may be junk science or no science at all to support their claims, as is actually the case with the claim that vaccines are safe.

They have nothing persuasive to show you to support this claim, and don’t show you the opposing science, they just keep it from you and deny it when it does poke its nose out. The plan is that if we repeat the mantra of vaccines are safe enough times, we won’t ask about it anymore. This plan has succeeded brilliantly.

If we do come up with a proven safe vaccine for COVID-19, it will be the first one ever that we have ever done genuine and reliable safety studies on, although to do this properly would take several years because the negative effects of these things is not limited to the short duration that the safety part of this is being looked at.

We certainly do not know something is safe longer-term when we just look at what it does to us over a period of a few weeks, and this is especially important given that we’re now messing with human genetics with these new RNA vaccines, involving potential mistakes that may never be able to be undone.

Their latest attempt to censor the President takes even this madness a big step further where now we cannot even make completely factual statements in the media, even if made by the President of the United States, and perhaps especially not by him.

These people are so blinded by their outrage to the point where they have simply stupefied themselves, that they are claiming that Trump making this statement implies that the virus presents an extremely low heath risk to everyone. There are indeed other considerations than the protection of school children that goes into the decision to re-open schools or not, and Trump did not say that everyone is almost immune to it, he just said the kids are.

Whatever reasons we may have to open schools or not should not involve worrying about children dying from this, although this does not stop some people from doing it, and we do see at least some references that imply that we do need to worry about them succumbing to the disease.

We at least need to get this part straightened out, which President Trump is trying to help these people with, and whether or not we need to worry about the potential for these kids getting COVID and infecting others or not, we need to at least recognize this as the actual concern if we are concerned about such a thing.

We might not want to send in kids who have been infected by COVID at school or elsewhere into nursing homes, like Andrew Cuomo did by sending infected patients back into nursing homes and causing thousands to die as a result, as this is a case where the costs clearly outweigh any benefits of kids visiting their grandparents while they are contagious.

We need to make sure that we are not trying to create a false dichotomy here though, thinking that the choice is between keeping schools closed and doing absolutely nothing to protect anyone from whatever additional spread that this may cause, measures that may be wise regardless, like actually quarantining the infected and not everyone.

When we calculate the costs on the health side of school re-openings, we need to focus on the actual costs, net of any prudence that should be used regardless. Apart from quarantining the sick, we actually don’t even have any good evidence that quarantining the healthy works at all, other than to just to prolong the outbreak, which is exactly what we are seeing happen in the United States right now.

For the last 15 years until lately, health authorities have been in agreement on this, that quarantining the healthy does not work and there hasn’t been any evidence to the contrary with this current outbreak, and if anything, the evidence points to this just making things worse, even though no one seems to care.

This view conveniently became forgotten when COVID-19 hit our shores, or at least wasn’t talked about anymore, and somehow, all we know about this was forgotten as well and we chose to get by on mere proclamations by these authorities, the evidence be damned. You don’t even have to damn it if you just continue to insist that you are right and others aren’t even allowed to discuss the matter.

As it turns out, we can just use comparatives to shed light on what we normally see as too low of a risk to ever even consider closing schools, where if we can demonstrate that we permit risks of a similar nature without consideration, this involves a contradiction. Logic may not serve as a barrier for these people, but they still deserve to have these things pointed out to them so that at least some may be aware of any stupidity that may be involved.

We spoke at the outset of this pandemic that this is a media created bad pandemic movie, although at least in the real pandemic movies the human race is thrown into an existential crisis, and not just having the writers try to try to exaggerate it so much that it appears to be a doomsday scenario and then just pretend it is after we see that it is far from this.

This is still the case, and while we have pointed out that this sure didn’t look anything beyond the typical infectious diseases that we see throughout the world, so few of us care about these things that this just falls upon deaf ears. As it turned out, the CDC did seem to listen, as they actually have some great data now to support how much we continue to exaggerate this particular outbreak compared to the regular ones we get every year.

We have mentioned several other diseases that kill many more people each year, like tuberculosis, that people do not care anywhere near enough as they should with millions dying each year and few even noticing. Among these diseases is pneumonia, and while it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many people as tuberculosis or diarrhea, it still kills a lot of people, and we could do a much better job of preventing all these common diseases if we cared enough.

There is Another “Pandemic” Going On, One That Hits Us Every Year

It turns out that there has not been one pandemic that has hit the U.S. in 2020, there have actually been two, with the other one being the pneumonia pandemic, although that one comes around every year and isn’t even noticed by the public, even now, with our intense focus on infectious diseases.

We wished that things like this could be tracked together, for instance to give us an idea of how many people purportedly died from COVID-19 over the time it has been around, compared to how many have died from a disease such as pneumonia, to actually see how this new virus stacks up, to understand what these COVID numbers actually mean by providing some sort of reference point beyond having none at all and just using the numbers to prey on irrational fear, as resounding of a success as this has been.

There is no judgement involved in just looking at the data themselves, where we may still want to only pay attention to COVID deaths and completely ignore a similar amount of deaths from another infectious disease like pneumonia, as if dying from COVID means something but dying of pneumonia does not, but even if we want to act this ignorantly, we at least should want to know what we are trying to ignore.

This is especially important to consider as it pertains to the management of communicable disease in school, the crux of the dispute that is raging throughout America right now, as if we consider how we deal with this threat normally, what we consider to be acceptable risk normally, this can at least shed more light on the matter than choosing to be blind to everything but achieving your preferences.

People can die of pneumonia at any age, as while this is a much higher threat to the elderly, as COVID is as well, the CDC has decided to break the comparison between COVID and pneumonia down by age group as they have done does serve to shed additional light on the matter.

We need to start with the fact that whatever threat pneumonia presents to either children or the community at large, we have not ever seen fit to close schools down on account of it and this is below the threshold enough to not even have the matter discussed. This would extend to the community as well, as would be completely incongruent and even contradictory to shut down things due to COVID if it is of a similar threat as pneumonia is, a disease that if anything, we err on the side of reckless with by exposing our elderly to it with no regard to their risk or welfare.

The data on this that the CDC provides covers the period between Feb 1 and Aug 1 of this year, making it both very comprehensive and very up to date. They do break the data down quite well, distinguishing between children under a year, as well as ages 1-4, 5-14, and 15-24, but we’ll just treat this as a single category for simplicity, 24 and under, encompassing all students right up to college age.

The study did also track influenza deaths, and we could add these to the pneumonia deaths to make that side of the ledger look bigger, but we’re just looking to compare pneumonia with COVID directly and don’t need to look at any other deaths, just pit the top 2 of 2020 in the U.S. head to head and see how they compare.

Over this time, there has been a total of 29,486 deaths from all causes among Americans 24 and under, just so serve to put the other numbers in perspective. 549 have died from pneumonia, with 270 dying of something while infected or suspected of being infected with COVID, the criterion that is used to measure deaths from this virus.

We’re not out to question the validity of how valid the way we track COVID-19 deaths is, as we will accept these numbers at face value for the purposes of this discussion, and be very confident that we’re not missing anything when people who die from completely unrelated conditions are being counted just because they test positive for this particular viral infection.

We can’t just conclude that just because more people die from pneumonia than from COVID, this means that we don’t need to pay attention to COVID deaths like we don’t feel the need with pneumonia, because we still need to deal with the possibility that these two together may exceed our threshold.

Given that pneumonia is not even looked at all at as a potential threat though, it would be completely inconceivable that we could go from near zero to a risk that would be in need of addressing, as doubling an extremely small number just yields a number that is only greater by an extremely small amount.

The claims though that are behind the purported need to keep our schools closed are directed primarily not at the risk that this presents to students but to the community at large. We then need to compare the impact of these two infectious diseases across the population as a whole to see what sort of deal COVID is in the first place, to place it in the context of plain old diseases like pneumonia that come and go every year virtually unnoticed and ones we do not take any special measures with, even ones that we should take.

At every age group that the CDC looked at, a similar number of people have died from both COVID and pneumonia, with a slight edge to pneumonia overall, coming in at 150,095 through August 1, compared to the 142,164 deaths that the U.S. had at that time.

This is not a matter of the two being similar now but the COVID deaths accelerating in relation to pneumonia, as COVID deaths have been decelerating for some time, and as this continues, it will lose ground over time, not pull ahead.

This, of course, doesn’t render all these COVID deaths insignificant, or any less significant, and it’s the fact that pneumonia deaths over this time have been just as significant that provides meaning to these numbers, where we can then compare our response to one versus the other.

To be fair, since these pneumonia deaths are a baseline, the additional deaths due to infectious disease that COVID has caused do need to be counted on top of the usual ones, as a doubling of pneumonia deaths over the norm in a given year would be.

Once again, we would not expect doubling something we do not feel the need to pay any real attention to would result in raising any real concern either, and we do have testimony to this as these things do vary considerably by year and have doubled or more but has never even been noted publicly.

Sending kids to school will always involve a risk of the spread of communicable diseases, as does any interaction that we have with one another. If we can send them to school without worrying at all that they will spread the risk of pneumonia among the general population, we need to at least wonder why a disease of similar risk would scare the daylights out of us so much.

The obvious answer to managing these two types of infection would be to strike a better balance, paying more attention to pneumonia but one in proportion to the risk. The fact that all the deaths that pneumonia causes completely escapes our intention should concern us plenty, where we leave those at very high-risk fully exposed to this threat rather than taking a few simple and preventative measures to better protect our elderly population.

Just like with COVID, pneumonia is primarily an end of life stage disease, where their immune systems deteriorate and no longer can provide the balance that is needed to prevent both an under-response and an over-response to infectious agents, and it’s the over-response that does most of the killing and all of it with COVID-19, where we are attacked and killed not by infectious agents but instead attack and kill ourselves in response to it.

This why a drug such as hydroxycloroquine helps to some degree because it suppresses immunity by controlling the deadly immune storm that has claimed so many lives already. A vaccine, on the other hand, takes us in a different and much more questionable direction as far as this virus goes anyway, by seeking to strengthen the response to it, and we already have evidence that shows that coronavirus vaccines can increase rather than decrease the risk of dying.

This does not mean that the coming vaccines will, but we need to tread very carefully here, as it is very common for vaccines to make infections worse, including with the polio vaccine which is so widely cited as their biggest success. It put the number of polio deaths up considerably, and polio was eradicated not because of the vaccine, but in spite of it, one of many stories they would prefer us not to hear and gives us at least a taste of how much fraud is perpetrated in this realm.

Keeping school children or anyone who has a contagious infection of any nature away from those at much higher risk of dying from it should be understood as wise, and quarantining in itself has been shown to be very effective provided that it is targeted sensibly.

If we do wish to deprive children of an effective education and throw many people out of work by keeping schools closed, and we are even the least bit interested in figuring out whether we are doing the right thing, we cannot even pretend to do the right thing by ignoring the costs and treating whatever benefits this may bring as absolute and not even subject to examination.

It may be too much to hope for, but if they did dare to do this, they would see that this is hugely one sided, and come with staggering economic and social costs at a time when we are fragile from all the other damage that we have brought upon ourselves, versus the risk of community spread from having them open with a disease of a magnitude that normally does not concern us at all and not anything we would normally give up a single class of school to address.

Regardless of how we may decide these things, it should not be so much to ask that we do so by at least having a sense of what we are doing and how the costs and benefits of our actions play out with at least a crude understanding of the matter.

If we are this afraid of the effect of opening our schools spreading COVID, we could use the very same rationale to close schools down permanently, because the risks that we are looking to manage are the same ones we are faced with year after year. If we can just manage to understand this, this will give us a big leg up on being more prepared to make whatever decision ends up being right, by way of rightness and not fear.

If they wish to defend their views by citing what the science says, and we’re not even sure what science exists that supports school closures, since they did bring up the topic of science, they should be at least willing to look at actual science, especially important data that the CDC shows us on how big of a threat this pandemic actually is in comparison to much more common diseases.

We understand the risk of spreading communicable diseases generally, and do generally show good sense and not have a nuclear-sized overreaction to any particular one, and the goal here needs to be to balance these risks with the practical consequences of how we manage them. We can’t balance things until we consider them. We need to do a whole lot more considering.

Ken Stephens

Chief Editor, MarketReview.com

Ken has a way of making even the most complex of ideas in finance simple enough to understand by all and looks to take every topic to a higher level.

Contact Ken: ken@marketreview.com

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