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Dr. Grauer's Column - What Would It Really Take To Reopen The Grauer School?

What Would It REALLY Take for the Grauer Campus to Re-Open and Stay Open?
Pandemic Update #23

“If you chose to commit to having your child go to in-person school, you also need to commit to continuing low-risk behaviors outside of the school.”
- Dr. Michele Ritter, UCSD COVID-19 clinic

There are a staggering number of cases of the Coronavirus, a phenomenal, historical pandemic. The numbers speak for themselves—more Americans are dying monthly than during the height of World War II. Even taking a walk can be a challenge for many among us. Eight trillion dollars have been spent so far by world governments. And the number of positive cases is still increasing. How can we stop it?  How will we reclaim our most joyful and productive lives at school?

A critical starting point in thinking about how we can return to school is with our own selves. Once we reopen our campus, anyone in our community could easily be responsible for shutting the school down. A single case on campus could potentially close our campus, or worse, cause an outbreak. What if that case was you, and you exposed your whole class?

Grauer Seniors Mia, Nicole, and Selah working on their applications and essays during College Applications Camp - August 19, 2020

There are at least 5 things that, if we all do them, can make us safer and prevent infection on our campus. They are The Grauer School’s Absolutely Required Safety Precautions

  1. Wear a proper mask (and, quite possibly, eye covering)
  2. Stay carefully distanced
  3. Avoid crowds
  4. Be outdoors every chance you get, and
  5. Wash hands (at least 5 times a day)

Those are the gateways to our School’s joyous re-opening. I am not going to get into the research behind these, because I have cited it all many times in the 21 prior Pandemic Updates and they are the objects of such strong consensus on our Return to Safe Campus Task Force—so these five are non-negotiables for The Grauer School at this point. They will most likely stay non-negotiables until at least until such time as the pandemic has been declared not a threat to schools—or if we had some kind of instant, inexpensive testing we could do routinely. [1]  (Like the flu, it may never be “gone.”) All our students will get training and reinforcement on “The Big Five.”

Of all these items, wearing a proper mask is the biggest game-changer. (3-layer fabric or surgical/medical grade is our standard—neck gaiters are not as effective.) It is important that everyone wears a mask at all times when on campus, if/when in a home learning pod, and when out and about. (And be sure to label your child’s mask—this is not a good thing to swap!) Our families socializing without masks is the single most likely thing to result in a school shutdown, and it could be deadly—look at the data. Social distancing is not enough. Virus particulates can remain in the air in rooms for hours (though we have extremely extensive air treatments). In populated, community spaces, the risk of spreading infection is much higher.

But those precautions are just what you and I must commit to. The reality is that to open our School safely, we will have to take these Safety Precautions as a school community. We will have to have an unheard-of level of unity, conformity and consistency from everyone in our school community: students and staff and everyone in their families. I completely understand how easy it is to drift from these behaviors in our daily practices, as I have, but it is undisputed among credible health experts that these practices are our bottom line. Accordingly, all Grauer School families and households (and school staff) will pledge to stay distanced in masks, avoid crowds, etc., at all times until the pandemic is declared passed. We each must declare clearly who our cohorts are, and STICK TO THEM. That is a lot to ask, but that is what this will take. Remember: Campus re-opening is not like hanging out with friends: we are talking about converging over 200 people from far and wide, with all they “carry,” onto a single site.

It is the people who do not adhere to those 5 Safety Precautions who are propagating the disease, especially among the most susceptible in our community. Some people say that youths have a lower risk and, while this may be true, youths have a higher risk for carrying the infection asymptomatically. That means our youths are more likely to be spreading the disease and not even know it. [2]  At least 40% of infected people don’t even have symptoms, but they are infecting others. [3]  Plus, lower risk for youths is not the same thing as no risk: kids are getting sick, too often for life. Obviously, if those infected people are not following our Safety Precautions, our school community will spread the virus and we will have to close the campus—as is happening around the world. We could gloriously re-open, and then get shut down in three days. 

Should we just wait for a vaccine?  We have half a dozen potential vaccines already in our country, but we are testing now (Phase 3 trials) to see if they are safe and effective. According to the nation’s top immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, if a vaccine is at least 50% effective (typical for a flu vaccine), that would be good, and we hope for 60-75%, which would be very high/good. So, a vaccine is an additional, effective tool. But know this:  the vaccine would only support those other Safety Precautions indefinitely.

An effective  vaccine could be enormously helpful in keeping our level of infection so low that we can prevent any surge or substantial spread—if and only if we uniformly adhere to the Safety Precautions. 

We understand that getting back to school is, for parents, a top-of-mind concern. Schools in Georgia, North Carolina and Indiana have had to shut down shortly after starting the year because of positive cases. In Georgia, for instance, students returned and compliance with Safety Precautions was inconsistent. There was a quick uptick of cases, and schools shut. One school had to quarantine literally 1100 students! Their district chief said, "We know all parents do not believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial." Obviously, we are not willing to have misinformation like that take over at Grauer. 

(I want to give a big shoutout of commendations and appreciation for our new senior class—they have been here at college application camp this week, loving seeing each other while doing a great job of wearing high quality masks and a servicable job of distancing. Seniors: this is the behavior that will keep our school open!)

Grauer Seniors working on their applications and essays during College Applications Camp - August 19, 2020

So, there is the bottom line about opening our school. First, of course, we will need the State and County to approve our return to campus, and we support their efforts to keep schools closed until infection rates drop below the thresholds set by the State. 

After that approval, naturally, going back to school will be met with a series of school adaptations we have been developing over these past few months: Board ratification of our “Return to Campus Plan,” modified schedules, outdoor classes, more physical separation, intense cleaning/disinfecting protocols, required symptom monitoring, and waiver forms. But none of this works if the students and families themselves, i.e., you and me, aren't diligent about following these practices in cars and vans, in stairwells and in classrooms—and in homes. I just can’t say this enough: School campus safety adaptations will only be effective so long as we do not have any active community transmission of this infection and that is on you, on me, on all of us: on everyone who sets foot on campus and everyone they live and cohort with.

In the meantime, we are hoping to try out some of our return to campus protocols by inviting small pods, or activity groups, on campus, very soon. (Thanks to the Parents for forming these lovely cohorts!) Stay tuned. Activity groups in reduced numbers will give us a chance to train students and teachers about best practices, and to form these new habits, which easily could be with us all year, even with a complete return to campus.

Again: none of our on-campus efforts work if students go home to families not practicing those same Precautions. (And, again, I realize some of you have cohorts or pods: we must not mix them.)

Even if we all comply: We may not be looking at a situation where school and every student will go back at once—our school is a unique community and we will continually determine safety (and also test everyone, as detailed in an earlier Pandemic Update). We might open up in parts or in select programs… we will parlay our unique small school advantages and safety features. 

I believe that if we have uniformity in taking the Safety Precautions, we can be great—but this one is not just on the School, it is on every single one of us. One person could shut us down.
In our country,  we tragically do not have a federal plan or national guidance. Our School simply must rise above the divisiveness and polemics that have caused confusion about the efficacy of the above Safety Precautions. We are clear: the only way anyone could ever conclude that we do not need these Safety Precautions is to avoid simple, irrefutable and tragic evidence provided by virtually every virologist, epidemiologist, and medical expert. This Update calls for an unheard-of measure of compliance in our school community, because we want our kids safe and on campus and this is what it will take

We are clear. Our role is to be a great school and that includes assuming our proper, healthy role in breaking the chain of infection in our own school community. The advantages our School has are great: we are a small cohort, we are outdoors-oriented, we are used to uniting behind a single, cohesive philosophy. If you are not on board with this, it should be critical for you to contact me and share your differing point of view—this is a call to action. If we agree to all of the above, our children will be safe—that’s the goal. Now more than ever, we must unite behind the Safety Precautions if we want our beautiful community back sooner rather than later. 

[1] The PCR tests Grauer plans for our return to campus perform extremely well, but they are very expensive and not convenient.

[2] Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, A Korean study suggested that children between the ages of 10 and 19 spread the Coronavirus more than adults.

[3] Infections Among Children, According to the Centers for Disease Control, the largest pediatric study out of China found that 90% of children with COVID-19 develop mild or moderate symptoms, 4% were entirely asymptomatic and 6% became severely or critically ill.

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Grauer Seniors Mia, Nicole, and Selah working on their applications and essays during College Applications Camp - August 19, 2020

Grauer Seniors working on their applications and essays during College Applications Camp - August 19, 2020

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