Corbella: Return-to-school COVID facts should end the lesson in nastiness

A collage of messages hang from the fence of Hasbro Elementary School in southwest Calgary on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.

“I hope your kids die in front of you . . . .”

That was one of the messages I woke up to on Aug. 18 after my column entitled

The Stats Show Kids Should Return to School — Without Worry

 was published.

I was tempted to write back that I hope that person’s children get taken away to be raised by a sane individual. But I never reply to hate mail.

My column focused on facts from the federal government’s

COVID-19 epidemiological summary

, the opinion of an expert and because I’m a columnist, I also revealed my opinion — which is my job.  I came to the same conclusion as the professor of pediatrics I interviewed, which is that the risk to children from this virus is very low and must be weighed against mental health concerns caused by a lockdown and the gains from in-class instruction.

I thought that my column would help soothe the worries of concerned parents — and I did hear from some grateful ones who said it did — but judging from my mail and from online comments, you would have thought I had just advocated that all children have needles poked in their eyes as they returned to school.

I can only imagine what comments Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw are receiving.

On Twitter, a very quick look revealed that LaGrange has been called the c-word at least five times, a whore twice, a bitch so many times I lost count and she was told to F-off, or variations of that, hundreds of times.

These are probably the very same people who make loud public proclamations about the dangers of bullying, but behind closed doors beat their spouse and kids while making cyber bullying a hobby and populating their vile, anonymous social media accounts.

On Friday, following a day of protests across the province seeking a delay to the reopening of schools, LaGrange noted she’d met with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and

the College of Alberta School Superintendents.

 Protesters voice their concerns about school reopenings in September in Calgary on Friday, Aug. 21.

“These partners remain confident, as do I, that the school re-entry plan already provides local school authorities with the autonomy and flexibility to ensure local needs are met and to prepare schools for a safe re-entry,” LaGrange said in a press release.

On Thursday

, Hinshaw

spent most of her update

discussing how, and from where, she got the scientific and medical data that has informed this province’s return to school policy. While her voice remained as even and calm as usual, she was clearly defending herself.

Hinshaw says her advice regarding return to school policies “is based on a review of evidence on what has worked or not worked around the world, and on what science and medicine have learned about children and their experiences with the COVID-19 virus.

“We must learn how to live with this virus, and how to find the right balance between preventing uncontrolled COVID spread and preventing the harms that come from shutting down essential parts of our society,” she said.

The

Canadian Pediatric Society

, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other pediatric organizations agree that a safe return to school is critical to the physical health, mental health and general well being of students and families, she pointed out.

“School is about more than education,” said Hinshaw. “It is equally important to a child’s socialization, mental health, food security through school nutrition programs, and protection from other harms that may result from additional stress or financial hardship if parents are not able to work. The multi-faceted value of school is clear.”

Hinshaw says she looked at “a dizzying array” of information available on schools and COVID-19 transmission in children.

Her review of all that info shows that if kids are infected with COVID, they are more likely to be mildly sick and that infected younger children do not seem to drive community transmission.

“This was equally true in places like Sweden, where elementary schools never closed and in Finland, where schools did close,” explained Hinshaw.

 Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw gives a COVID-19 update from Edmonton on Friday.

She says an outbreak in France happened in the early days of the pandemic, before public health measures were in place and “Israel’s outbreak occurred in a context with almost 40 students per classroom, and during a time when a heat wave meant that mask use was paused.”

But, and here’s the clincher, “

the main predictors of successful school reopening in COVID is the level of community transmission outside the school.

“Places with high community transmission have experienced much more spread in schools than places with low transmission,” she said.

Concerned parents, pointing at what’s happening in Georgia, are missing the fact that the state has an infection rate 12 times higher than Alberta.

Hinshaw says it’s “encouraging” to look at some examples of COVID-19 exposures that happened in schools before school shut-downs occurred.

There are several case reports from around the world, including Australia, Ireland, France and Finland, where 17 COVID-19 cases in all these countries were reported as individuals attending a school while infectious.

“Detailed reports of these cases concluded that of the over 1,900 contacts who were identified between all of these cases in these four countries, on follow up, (they) resulted in only one case of secondary transmission. This was before any COVID-19 modifications were in place in schools and this included high school settings in both Ireland and Australia.”

These facts should help drive out fears.

For parents, teachers and school staff with underlying medical conditions or who are elderly, “each family must weigh their options and make the best choice for their situation.”

Hinshaw, a parent of school-aged children, added, “I have decided the value of in-school learning outweighs the risks for my family. That’s why I’m sending my children back to school in September. But I want to be clear, there is no wrong decision about a return to in-school or online learning.”

You, the parent, gets to decide. No one will force you to do anything. Teachers at risk can do the online teaching.

So, stop with these

lessons in nastiness.

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist in Calgary. [email protected] 

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