Forcing children back into close contact in school before we have any vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 puts the whole country at even greater risk. The fatality rate still hovers around 4%, though politicians blame the increased numbers of dead on increased testing which, of course, makes zero sense.

And in most jurisdictions, testing is still not adequately available. And anywhere testing actually is available, it is unlikely that anyone with a fever or other symptoms will sit and bake for 8-10 hours in summer heat, particularly if the results are delayed for a week, making contact tracking and quarantine useless.

Paul Liebow

Although the fatality rate for healthy children is still low, classrooms will become Petrie dishes for viral spread to older adults and those with pre-existing conditions. It is also emerging that those whose lungs “recover” are at significant risk of other long-term major organ damage, particularly strokes and dementia.

Active growing children will not be contained in separate plastic cages for an hour, let alone 6-8 hours, without active mixing and play. Behavioral crises and bullying will not cease.

Which parents will mock social distancing while claiming that masks destroy their “freedom”?

It would take two, three or even four adults to teach and handle paperwork, console and arbitrate, enforce distancing and supervise bathroom breaks, even for a 4-by-4 class arrangement. Even plain indoor air without droplets is now considered contagious. Well-appearing children will carry indoor airborne death home to parents and grandparents. Even healthy adults and children are dying.

How will a child or a parent deal with the guilt of infecting their parent or grandparent, or another child who infects theirs? How will teachers and aides function without full PPE protection? How many will just retire early to protect their loved ones?

It will take a whole new system of remote learning to make the inevitable mandatory return to a high-functioning society anything less than calamitous. Highly supervised and well thought out class structures will have to be perfected across the nation. Everyone, from young children to the infirm, will need to perfect sterile precautions and have adequate PPEs. The Defense Production Act must ensure adequate supplies of all essentials. States must be allowed to work under a real centralized government, rather than continue the present destructive resource competition.

Remote learning tools and training will need massive infrastructure redesign. Parents and kids will need physical and internet savvy learning tools of all sorts so that children with parents who did not do well in school can learn together, in the spirit of loving mutual play. This will be particularly important for younger learners.

Remote lectures for older learners will need to be replaced with active back and forth repartee after completing reading assignments. Immediate paragraph-by-paragraph testing and positive reinforcement are more efficient. All assignments must be intellectually stimulating, even fun, to help develop further work skills.

A huge volunteer network will need to be recruited and trained to help in class and online. Retired teachers and other adults will be first in line, but volunteers could be students or adults at all levels, charitable groups, even Scouts.

For adequate infection control, every person in America must be confined to several small “pods” that only interact with each other — in the classroom, at work and at play. Frequent real-time testing and tracking are mandatory. Communication between pods must be totally sterile and within pods with spacing, frequent hand washing and masking.

This is a national emergency.

Only science and hard work will provide a miracle.

Paul Liebow, MD FACEP, has a long history of involvement with environmental issues, including board membership on the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Climate Change Stake-holders Group, and as a founding member of the State Taxpayers Opposed to Pollution. He is a resident of Bucksport.

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