August 31, 2020
We have been asked repeatedly by our readers to analyze Dane County’s Emergency Order #9, the new order which prohibits most schools from offering in-person, on-site learning at a school. This order was issued late on a Friday afternoon, just hours before many private schools were scheduled to start the school year.
The order requires all Dane County schools to begin the school year virtually for students in grades 3-12. Children in grades K-2 may have in-person pupil instruction as long as the school follows the new guidelines outlined in the order. Schools are NOT required to offer K-2 in-person, on-site.
The first thing that stands out when you read the order is that the order actually makes the case why K-12 schools SHOULD be open for in-person instruction. As you read the entire paragraph, the case it makes for reopening is quite compelling.
“While research on school-aged children continues to emerge and evolve, a number of systematic reviews have found that school-aged children contract COVID at lower rates than older populations. This is particularly pronounced among younger school-aged children. Locally, as of August 20, 2020, nine (9) percent of all COVID cases were among children aged 0-17 in Dane County. This population comprises 22% of the county population overall. Cases among 0-4 year olds comprised 1.3% of all cases; 5-10 year olds comprised 2.7% of overall cases; and 11-17 year olds comprised 5.3% of all cases. Outbreaks and clusters among cases aged 5-17 have been rare; of the 401 cases within this age group, 32 (8.0%) were associated with an outbreak or cluster. A recent analysis also showed a higher proportion of adults with COVID in Dane County had symptoms compared to school-aged children and that the most common risk factor among school-aged children was household contact with a confirmed case. No deaths among children who have tested positive for COVID-19 have occurred in Dane County.”
So, if, according to the local public health experts and the order:
- School-age children generally don’t catch COVID-19; and
- Outbreaks among school-age children are rare; and
- School-age children are much more likely to catch COVID-19 at HOME rather than school; and
- No school-age children have died in Dane County
Why, then, is Dane County prohibiting virtually all in-person, on-site schooling?
The very order itself doesn’t make sense and argues, quite convincingly, for the opposite result it is pushing. Only bureaucrats would make such a completely backwards argument to support a draconian order with such a widespread impact on so many.
Next, we must look at this order in the context of how mild the outbreak of COVID-19 has been in Wisconsin and Dane County, in general. And before our friends on the left attack, we believe all life is precious and the loss of life cannot and should not be minimized. Thank God we have experienced far fewer deaths and hospitalizations than any of the hot spots in the rest of the country.
The peak of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Dane County was 46 inpatients total back in early April. Forty-six total in the entire county, a county with a population of 546,695. Back in April.
Dane County has 7 hospitals and the South Central region has 29 total hospitals, according to the DHS COVID-19 website. The Dane County health system has not been overwhelmed, nor has it even really been strained. We received reports for weeks at a time that the UW Hospital, with a capacity of 505 beds, had between 5-10 COVID-19 inpatients TOTAL. It also means the virus in general is more mild than we first thought. If the virus was as serious and potent as we originally believed, you would have seen a much higher infection rate and a much higher number of hospitalizations. This is positive news. This is great news that actually needs to be celebrated. Our health care professionals on the ground are doing a really good job treating their patients for COVID-19 and the hospital staff are also doing an amazing job treating sick patients and helping them recover.
Let’s take a step back for a second. Dane County has a population of 546,695 according to the latest Dane County COVID-19 Data Snapshot. As of August 20, from the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in March of this year, the total number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, all ages, in Dane County hit 5,024 or just over .9% of the entire population has contracted the virus. So, using the percentage of children with COVID-19 listed in the Executive Order itself, approximately 452 children (Ages 0-17) have come down with COVID-19 since the start of March. The 452 children in Dane County ages 0-17 who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March equates to 0.38% of all children ages 0-17 in Dane County. Less than one-half of one percent of children have tested positive for COVID-19 in Dane County and, yet, public health officials are prohibiting schools from reopening. That’s less than 100 kids a month for the entire county and, thankfully, no child in Dane County has died from the virus. That also means every child who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March has recovered.
A letter from the Archdiocese of Madison’s letter to parents of school-aged children who attend a Catholic school in Dane County notes that the daily number of COVID-19 cases has dropped by 50% since late July and the 7 day average of new cases continues to decline. These are both very positive trends that the Dane County Public Health Officials ignore.
The next thing that stands out is the most problematic and, again, it comes from the Madison Archdiocese’s letter. In the letter, the Archdiocese points out that Catholic School Officials have been asking Dane County Public Health Officials for weeks to provide the specific metrics that Public Health Officials would use to decide if schools could reopen for in-person, on-site education. For weeks, Dane County has refused to share this information with the public.
Now why would the Public Health Officials refuse to share the metrics needed for in-person, on-site instruction? Doesn’t that strike you as odd?
If public health officials and local elected officials were truly trying to be transparent with the public, open with the taxpayers they serve, why would they stonewall or ignore requests for the school opening metrics? If Public Health Officials wanted to inspire confidence in their expertise and their work, why develop the specific standard so late in the game and make it public just hours before some schools were scheduled to reopen?
Dane County Public Health Officials have been working on COVID-19 around the clock since March. Only in mid-August did they decide what the standard would be to reopen schools? C’mon, you must think we are fools or sheep. And this is the biggest failure of the mainstream media. There was a time when the mainstream media had a healthy skepticism of government and would have persisted to ask County Executive Parisi, Mayor Rhodes-Conway, and Public Health Director Heinrich about the timeline for developing these standards, would have asked them to show the public the “science” behind the standard, asked them why it is necessary to shut down private schools when the science shows the impact on children is mild, and asked them why they purposefully announced this on a Friday after 5pm.
Sadly, those days are gone.
It is also strange that up to this point, in the COVID-19 debate about the spread of the virus and when the state would fully reopen, the Evers Administration has focused on the percentage of positive diagnoses as a key metric. Yet, here, Dane County is using a specific number of actual cases a day, not just a percentage. The problem with this sudden switch is that as the virus makes its way through the population, fewer people eventually will feel the need to get tested. That means Dane County’s positive percentage will continue to fall. So even when Dane County’s positive rate falls below the 5% rate, the politicians will use this hard ceiling of actual cases to keep schools closed and the economy restrained.
To drive home this point, consider Dane County’s metric to fully reopen everything in the county completely. To fully reopen Dane County, Dane must have “below a low incidence threshold of 4 cases per day over a 14 day period.” Just 4 cases per day in the entire county. COVID-19 is a virus and will hang around for the foreseeable future, like the virus that causes the flu. It will be nearly impossible to keep the number of cases to just 4 per day over an extended period of time.
The improbability of this sends a clear message: Dane County officials plan to keep restrictions in place until a vaccine is widely available. Right now, it seems like the earliest that a vaccine will be ready is mid-2021, at best. Can you imagine being under COVID-19 restrictions all the way to next summer?
Finally, as MacIver Columnist Dan O’Donnell pointed out, many schools across the state are open right now as food distribution centers and some will offer in-person, on-site day camps next month. According to O’Donnell, “Madison Public Schools announced a plan earlier this month that costs $150 per student per week, while other districts that have opted for virtual learning are referring parents to their local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club for supervised virtual learning.”
So, the schools are already open for activity and some learning. But we can’t fully open schools for in-person, on-site instruction?
How does that make sense? It doesn’t. Just another example in a long list of just how far the bureaucrats in Dane County will go to keep our schools, and just about everything else, shut down.