Back to School Aug 2020
As parents of students in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, we appreciate the considerable effort by the Diocese to ensure a safe and effective learning environment for our children. We are concerned, however, that the St. Joseph County Health Department guidance on reopening schools, coupled with the virtual learning announcements by certain school districts, will prompt the Diocese to postpone or abandon its planned opening of schools for in-person instruction.
We do not diminish the risks that COVID-19 can pose to certain vulnerable persons, but children generally do not fall into that class of vulnerability. Children may suffer, however, serious repercussions if they do not return to the classroom. Increasingly, alarms are being raised by physicians, psychiatrists, and other experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about the negative mental, emotional, and physical impacts to children associated with virtual learning. The Elkhart County Health Department recently noted that “the advantages of in-person instruction outweigh” the minimal risks to children. Dr. Lydia Mertz, Elkhart County Health Department, July 31, 2020. Having witnessed our own children grapple with the isolation and uncertainty of eLearning in the Spring (in spite of the admirable efforts of their teachers), we agree with these experts. We understand that some parents may choose to place their children in virtual learning. But many parents do not.
We do not minimize the challenges presented by in-person classes. It is important, however, to follow the facts about this virus and these facts simply do not justify the postponement or cancellation of in-person learning. According to the CDC,
1) A pandemic threshold is set at 7% during flu season, “Based on death certificate data, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza or COVID-19 (PIC) decreased from 9.0% during week 25 to 5.9% during week 26, representing the tenth week of a declining percentage of deaths due to PIC. Meaning with the current rate of 5.9% we are technically not even in a pandemic according to their standards: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/past-reports/07032020.html. Keeping in mind the death rate combines pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19.
2) the Infection Fatality Ratio for COVID-19 is currently estimated to be 0.65% https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/plan...;
3) during the 2018-2019 flu season, there were approximately 480 deaths and more than 46,000 hospitalizations associated with the flu in children https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2018-2019.htm...;
4) during the 2017-2018 flu season, there were approximately 600 deaths and more than 48,000 hospitalizations associated with the flu in children https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2017-2018/arc...;
5) 64 children have died from COVID-19 thus far. Specifically, “as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths”; and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communit...
6) ongoing research has failed to show a single documented case of a student giving Covid-19 to a teacher.
It is important to remember the context in which our schools were first closed in March. We were told that because of a need to “flatten the curve” and not overwhelm hospitals, schools needed to be closed. Today, our hospitals are not overwhelmed. The fatality rate remains low. And children remain largely unaffected. It is also important to remember that during the previous flu seasons, our schools and churches remained fully open and youth sports and extracurricular activities continued.
The Catholic Church, like so many institutions today, is under attack by some people hostile to the Catholic faith. At this particular moment in time, our children desperately need the peace, wisdom, and truth of the Catholic faith, something that is uniquely present each day within a Catholic school. In these past several months, our society seems to have become paralyzed by the potential risks posed by this virus. Fear of contracting the virus and the desire to eliminate all conceivable risk have created anger, distrust, suspicion, and alienation. As a society, risk is present in virtually everything we do. We readily accept these risks where the benefits outweigh the negative. How we respond to COVID-19 should be no different.
We are confident that Diocesan principals, teachers, parents, and students can work together to create and maintain a safe learning environment. We respectfully urge you to bring our children back to school, in-person, beginning in August 2020, with reasonable precautions in place and consistent with applicable law and Diocesan policies.