We continue to make the case that until there is a national testing, tracing and treatment regime in place, any talk of economic recovery is premature at best. The same could be said of the reopening of schools.
There is a risk to the economy hidden in plain sight around if, how and when schools reopen.
The next source of social conflict linked to the pandemic is likely to be whether schools should open on schedule later this summer. When one looks at the emerging pandemic epicenters of Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, the idea of a national reopening of schools and universities is a significant challenge with noticeable economic consequences.
Until that matter is settled, households with children will be challenged to meet basic work and productivity expectations. The idea that people will be able to perform at peak productivity in their vocations while simultaneously overseeing the education of their children in 30- to 60-minute increments during the day is highly unrealistic.
For this reason, there is a risk to the economy hidden in plain sight around if, how and when schools reopen that is just beginning to be acknowledged.
During the first 120 days of the pandemic, the focus on reopening businesses, not schools, has received priority. Unfortunately, the premature reopening of business has led to an intensification of the pandemic and is now causing a slowing of overall economic activity.
How the U.S. decides to reopen schools, or whether to do it at all, will define the next step in the normalization of the domestic economy.
Reopening of the schools in many ways is the most difficult of choices. After nearly four months at home with the kids, there has been ample time to consider whether the educational and social lapses suffered by children is so great as to outweigh the chance of a COVID-19 infection. Yet, a consensus on what to do next has not yet been agreed upon.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said that the potential damage for children confined to their home is far greater than the infection risk of kindergartners bouncing around a classroom.
Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado, told the New York Times, ”This virus is different from most of the respiratory viruses we deal with every year. School-age kids clearly play a role in driving influenza rates within communities. That doesn’t seem to be the case with COVID-19. And it seems like in countries where they have reopened schools, it plays a much smaller role in driving spread of disease than we would expect.”
And it’s easy to see his point, particularly if your own school experience was essential to your development or if your belief is that younger people are far less likely to get sick or to die from a COVID-19 infection.
A 2020 paper by the virologist Christian Drosten and others suggests otherwise. ”Based on the absence of any statistical evidence for a different viral load profile in children found in the present study, we have to caution against an unlimited reopening of schools and kindergartens in the present situation, with a widely susceptible population and the necessity to keep transmission rates low via non-pharmaceutical interventions. Children may be as infectious as adults.”
It’s highly probable that parents of young children and school-age children will make their school determination based on what’s comfortable for them. Schools might reopen, but it also seems reasonable that a significant percentage of the parents will keep their children at home.
Schools might reopen, but many parents may decide to keep their children at home.
A friend who is a high school physics teacher and mother of two small children calculated that the probability of her children coming in contact with an infectious person at school was far greater than the probability of doing so in quarantine.
The same goes for college students and, for that matter, their professors, who might very well decide that the degree to which on-line learning is successful will be determined by the collective efforts of student and professor.
Finally, as the figures below suggest, the past four months might have been better spent refurbishing the ventilation systems in each public school and re-configuring classrooms and schedules to provide a safe environment for both student and staff.
There are 48,500 newly reported cases of coronavirus infections each day, which is 50% higher than the previous peak in early April, and yet there is still no coordinated national response in providing emergency equipment and testing.
On a national level, and given the current trajectory, we could expect the virus to have infected 3.2 million people by the second week of July. This is a conservative estimate, based on the continued response of governors to the recent surge in infections across the South and Southwest. The public now must do its part to control the spread.
The excuse for not doing anything is that — though coronavirus infections cases are increasing — deaths attributed to the virus have been in steady decline since their peak in the third week of April. We show this in the figure below, with the seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths dropping from 2,200 in April to only 515 per day as of July 4. The consensus is that the age of infected people has been dropping, with younger cohorts having a greater ability to survive an infection.
We should note, however, that because deaths can lag infections by weeks, it is uncertain if this downward trend will continue after the latest surge of infections, particularly after the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Even if young people were to survive, their infections will nevertheless be a danger for all others.
Fiddling around while the infections mount
The spread of the coronavirus has been unrelenting, moving away from the East Coast and Northwest into the South and Southwest. Daily cases in the non-metropolitan states have reached 38,000 per day, which is twice as many as cases in the six states with major metropolitan areas that were initially hit hardest by the virus (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California). Of those states, only California has an increasing number of cases.
The fierce spread of the coronavirus outside of the major metropolitan areas should be a sobering reminder that the virus never left us, and that in the absence of a vaccine, social distancing practices are the only way to contain it.
The rate of spread in Idaho, Florida, Arizona and South Carolina is averaging 50% per week since the Memorial Day weekend. Cases in Texas and Nevada are growing by 36% to 38% per week on average.
There is no sense in reopening local economies, if all it accomplishes is more infections, more hospitalizations and deaths, and ultimately the re-closing of those same local economies.
For more information on how the coronavirus is affecting midsize businesses, please visit the RSM Coronavirus Resource Center.