Public schools

Quarantined L.A. Schoolkids Have Lower COVID Rates Than Vaccinated Teachers

Media persists in pediatric scare stories even while the country's largest dataset shows tiny yet still-declining rates, including among the needlessly quarantined.

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If you got your pediatric COVID news from New York Times science and public health correspondent Apoorva Mandavilli, you might be under the mistaken impression that (as Mandavilla asserted Monday) "the reopening of schools has fueled the [recent] surge," and that "children are as likely as adults to transmit the virus to others, and more likely to do so than adults older than 60."

Neither of these claims are supported by the evidence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rise in U.S. COVID hospitalizations began on June 28 (when the rate was at 0.56 per 100,000 residents), or precisely when most schools were closed for the summer. The rate then steadily climbed to 3.73 per 100,000 on August 27, at which point three-quarters of K-12 schools had flung open their doors. Now that the remaining 25 percent of schools have started the 2021–22 school year, hospitalizations are steadily sinking, down to 2.94/100,000.

As for children being "as likely as adults," and more likely than senior citizens, to transmit the virus, that sentence would be balderdash even after inserting the woefully missing qualifier "infected." As the CDC lays out in its school recommendations, students, proportionately, are not the ones spreading COVID inside school buildings: "staff-to-staff transmission is more common than transmission from students to staff, staff to student, or student to student," the agency noted. "Findings from several studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 transmission among students is relatively rare."

Mandavilli's shoddy article, dissected at hyperlinked length in this Twitter thread, deployed such pediatric scaremongering in the service of adding outside pressure to the Food and Drug Administration process of approving under-12 vaccinations. But a more accurate depiction of COVID and schools could be used to fix a policy error that's negatively affecting families right now: excessive school quarantine policies.

As has been clear since August, the single most important dataset involving kids and COVID would be coming out of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which is testing a half-million combined students and staff each week, regardless of vaccination status, at a cost of $350 million in 2021–22. Far from fueling any surge, let alone showing evidence of "superspread," these numbers overwhelmingly indicate that schools are safe and being overcautious.

The "baseline" rate of infection, taken from the two weeks before school, was 0.8 percent for students, 0.6 percent for staff. From that low starting point it has inched steadily down, as have pediatric hospitalizations and overall community spread. No fuel, no surge.

To the contrary. A study released on September 16 by Los Angeles County contains two remarkable findings: 1) Students, most of whom are not vaccinated, have a lower positive rate than teachers and staff, most of whom are. And 2) the positive test rate among students who are quarantined because a classmate tested positive is a microscopic 0.2 percent. Here is the relevant section:

In K-12 school settings countywide, between August 15 and September 13, 7,995 student cases and 1,193 staff cases were reported, with the vast majority occurring at LAUSD, which tests everyone weekly. With more than 1.5 million students and 175,000 staff countywide (by last year's counts), 0.5% of the student body and 0.7% of staff have become infected since school districts reopened. This is slightly higher than the 0.4% rate of infection experienced overall in the County. Given the massive testing of asymptomatic individuals at schools, this very low rate of infection affirms the safety provided to students and staff at schools.

Close contacts that are not fully vaccinated, are subject to quarantine for up to 10 days after exposure to a case. Between August 15 and September 13, 15,655 student contacts and 1,056 staff contacts have been reported, with an additional 22,650 close contacts of unknown status reported, most of them suspected to be students. In total, nearly 2% of all staff and students countywide have been identified as a close contact of a case. Data to date indicates that very few of the identified close contacts have subsequently tested positive. As of last week, among the almost 30,000 people quarantined, 63 tested positive; this amounts to an overall secondary attack rate of 0.2%.

(Note: L.A. County, with its 88 cities, is home to 10 million people, 4 million of whom live in Los Angeles proper. The LAUSD includes some kids from outside city limits, and educates a bit more than 40 percent of the county's students overall. Also, Southern California governance is a confusing mess.)

In response to this overwhelmingly good news, the county has announced a "modified quarantine" system, whereby potentially exposed students can stay in class if they are asymptomatic and test negative twice within the ensuing seven days. This "test to stay" protocol treats quarantining as a problem more of information than infectiousness, while acknowledging the educational inadequacies and familial disruptions of remote learning.

Such insights, perhaps coupled with anxiety over declining (albeit aggressively unreleased) enrollment numbers, prompted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce Monday that unvaccinated asymptomatic kids will no longer have to automatically quarantine after exposure, in part because testing of the non-vaxxed will be ramped up to weekly. "We saw enough quarantining that we thought this is something we want to get ahead of, and make sure that only those who really need to quarantine are quarantining," de Blasio said.

In both NYC and L.A., the biggest critics of the test-to-stay policy change are the same who did the most to keep public schools closed for most of 2020-21: teachers unions.

"We strongly disagree with the mayor's plan to limit the quarantine process only to some children rather than an entire classroom," New York's United Federation of Teachers tweeted yesterday. "Children—particularly the youngest who are most vulnerable to the Delta variant—need more protection than the Mayor is offering with this recent, ill-considered decision."

United Teachers Los Angeles, meanwhile, has not indicated whether it will agree to L.A. County's modified quarantine policy, even though the district is alone among all big-city systems in mandating vaccines for all eligible students.

It is astonishing, at this very late date, that so many Americans are unaware what an outlier the United States is on school reopening and masking young children. It is appalling that people who certainly know better, such as the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy Director Michael Osterholm, are saying such scaremongering nonsense as "the fact of the matter is that this is killing kids right now at a rate much, much, much higher than our worst severe influenza years." (The 2017–18 flu season killed an estimated 172 children in five months; COVID has killed 146 children since April.)

And it is a miserable reality, if no longer quite surprising, that some elite journalists have done such a piss-poor job of giving families and policymakers usable, contextual, and numerate information on which to base crucial decisions. At some point this school year, test-to-stay policies will replace excessive quarantining in all but the most union-dominated of districts. When our kids' 18-months-and-counting nightmare finally comes to a close, here's hoping a whole bunch of adults take a good long look in the mirror.

NEXT: Democrats Don't Have a Filibuster Problem. They Have a Joe Manchin Problem.

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  1. You see? Quarantines work! Follow the Science, people!

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    2. Even the literal islands that did lock down and stopped early spread are feeling it now. We simply do not have the means to truly stop this virus spreading and mutating, and need to be focused on treatment, rather than chasing safe zone unicorns.

      1. Unless they keep their borders closed forever and maintain their draconian lockdown policies in perpetuity, the Oceanic countries will eventually have to face the music. Covid is going endemic. It is not going away and will be with us for a long time. It’s the new Flu.

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  2. “here’s hoping a whole bunch of adults take a good long look in the mirror.”

    Well I don’t like looking at the talking heads on TV, I doubt they very much want to see themselves in a mirror. Shudder to think what some of them look like in the AM – probably like sarc/sqrlsy every day in the hobo camp.

    1. “here’s hoping a whole bunch of adults take a good long look in the mirror.”

      Hopefully that look into a mirror will happen as someone puts a noose around said adult’s neck.

    2. Here’s hoping Reason writers take a good long look in the mirror and sober up.

  3. Anyone else notice it’s the Unions pushing the excessive regulations?

    They did the same with calOSHA before we slapped them down. Teacher’s unions across the nation have been pushing more and more for ridiculous school rules. What is it with unions that they are so intransigent to more reasonable regulation on Covid?

    1. Regulation requires administration, which means more dues paying union members. It isn’t really a mystery is it?

      Years ago I realized that every bureaucracy is, in all but the literal sense, an organism. It feeds and grows and, if not forcibly restrained, will consume all of the resources to which it has access.

    2. unions are no llonger about what is best for the individuals, nor the community as a whole. Nope. They isolate a microcosm and expend nearly all their energy at protecting, promoting, advantaging, etc, their little cadre of Special PoohBahs.
      I remember back when Cesar Chavez organistd the grape workers in Central California. The Delano rallies stand out. Oh “da PORE abused widdow grape pickers” can barely feed their families, pore thankgs. Well once UFW got organised, things went OK for a while…. until production shifted to somewhere else because the cost of harvesting and packing the grapes with the unions made those grapes non-competitive on the OPEN market.
      I also remember when the Teamsters Unions in California lobbied for the 55 mph speed limit for all rigs. WHY? Simple make-wrk scam. At 55 mph a rig could not cover as many miles as it cold at 60 or 65. More hours for the guys in the saddle. That stupid limit still infests California and the other two West Coast states. NO ONTHER STATES impose a lower limit for rigs than for other vehicles. Accidnent ratesa are FAR higher in the West Coast states because the rigs are the bottleneck, and faster traffic scrambles to get round them,balling things up. Other states where trucks have the same limits as cars, the issue does not exist. Far fewer crashes involvoing big rigs. An the price per tonne mile of highway fright is lower accross those other states. I’ve been moving at 75 mph in Texas and been passed by a tractor with a 53 foot drybox doing the posted 85. No problem.

      Unions… one of the worst poxes to ever have infested the free market.

      1. “That stupid limit still infests California and the other two West Coast states. NO ONTHER STATES impose a lower limit for rigs than for other vehicles.”

        Illinois.

      2. Note that the unions most successfully imposing regulations that enrich themselves (and sometimes even their members) are those whose members are employed by the single entity that cannot go broke or shift base of operations: GOVERNMENT.

        At some point in the future, quite possibly at gunpoint, the public employees unions will have to be disbanded. This is all as my father (Civil Service GS14) predicted, back in the late 60s, early 70s. (His prescience in regard to the EEOC was equally impressive.)

      3. “Speed kills” is one of the most pernicious traffic safety mantras out there. Speed doesn’t kill; speed differentials kill. But don’t worry, the truckers are safe under a low truck speed regime regardless. Those in the cars around them, however, not so much.

    3. Have you ever spent time with a union rep? They were the ones that everyone else picked on in school and now they have a little power! They were also to a fault the worst workers and loudest whiners when they actually worked for a living. They, much like the political / media class, live in a world inhabited only with others like themselves so when they push these kind of rules and mandates it is because that is what they want not necessarily what is best for the common worker they represent.

  4. Progressivism is a religious designation, and its true believers don’t care about the facts.

    You can show statistics to some people that devastate the efficacy of placing your hand on a TV screen while a charismatic preacher prays to heal you, but that won’t stop them from sending the preacher money.

    That’s progressives, and here’s the gist of their message:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ72jpoq7N4

    If forcing non-progressives to live by their lockdowns, quarantines, and mask wearing is wrong, they don’t want to be right.

    1. It’s the official state religion. We can’t have religious freedom without being able to ignore this religion.

    2. That is Progressives, but it is curious that you used analogy to extreme fundamentalist Christians, who tend to be conservatives/Republicans as your way of describing them.

      You have effectively given a bothsidesism argument. Which is fine — both sides engage in religious thinking — many Republicans quite literally.

      1. The biggest problem with talking about “bothsidesism” (either making the argument or criticizing it) is that there are more than two sides to almost everything.

      2. >>bothsidesism

        only if *your* parameters are accepted. Ken gave apples & oranges.

      3. Some of the most “progressive” people in the country are fundamentalist christians who think it’s their god given duty to drag people to their idea of the future.

  5. that sentence would be balderdash even after inserting the woefully missing qualifier “infected.”

    I am not sure if it is better late than never to start talking about the missing qualifiers, Walsh. It really makes no difference at this point.

    It is not just the ‘public health experts’ that have behaved appallingly. The media, including many of the Reason editors, have been ignoring proper qualifiers for a long, long time now. The damage has already been done.

  6. Schools and teachers have ALWAYS had an infection rate under the general population of their communities. My guess is because they all had the bug rip through the schools before we knew it was a thing. And schools wouldn’t notice covid because it doesn’t affect children much — and it’s the middle of flu season.

    1. Didn’t you hear? The flu doesn’t exist anymore.

  7. It is so absurd what this country is doing to its children. You see celebrities in their long ball gowns at the Met Gala or the Emmys and then you see these videos of kids masked in 90 degree whether while trying to do team sports.

    The silver lining to this whole thing is that I hope kids look at this and realize just how hypocritical and absurd the ruling class is. These Elites kicked them out of school and low paying jobs while they stayed home and cashed paychecks while eating doordash. And now that we are opening up again, these same rulers are living life as normal while they literally mask those of lower station. If that doesn’t create a bunch of anti-authoritarians, nothing will.

    1. The silver lining to this whole thing is that I hope kids look at this and realize just how hypocritical and absurd the ruling class is.

      Or march through, zombie-like accepting the order of things and end up being worse than their parents were, because our current crop of in-charge adults didn’t spring forth, Venus-like from a mysterious clamshell.

    2. You would think that having to deal with city building officials and onerous (and sometimes contradictory) zoning regulations would drive all architects and developers to at least quasi-libertarian thinking too. Alas, they just think the government should more evenly enforce the rules, or make exceptions just for them.

    3. Well said. Here’s a hopeful thought. I’m retired and Uber in a college town in the mornings. The majority of the students I talk with are fed up. I think these college administrators and professors are turning them into the anti-authoritarians we both are hoping for. Anecdotal, I know, but still hopeful

  8. We need to continue to mask and quarantine children to protect our most vulnerable population – fully vaccinated adults.

  9. >>It is astonishing, at this very late date, that so many Americans are unaware

    how can it be astonishing when every source of information is censored?

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  11. If it only saves one child [ZERO RISK!]

    Therefore Matt must hate children.

    1. You can tell that Matt has young kids in school because this has been his hobby horse lately.

      And I don’t mean the above to be an insult, I merely mean point out that which is close to home is what’s going to get you animated.

      I can’t wait to read his articles when the state wants to force his kids to get the first jab, the second jab, then a booster every 45 days for the rest of their lives. I’m guessing he’s gonna get REAL libertarian then.

      1. He’s only a year and a half late. Maybe he deserves a few free months, but for at least a year, it has been very evident that kids aren’t at risk and aren’t wiping out nearby adults.

  12. Just saw this headline on the Youtube Curated feed of “trusted sources”:

    Johnson & Johnson: Covid vaccine booster increases protection to 94%

    What was the protection before the booster?

    1. 93% or so, depending on the day and who you ask.

  13. Um, good? You should hope the kids have a lower rate. And considering the kids are probably going straight home and not meeting their friends for beers after work, their chances of catching covid are going to be lower anyhow.

    JFC- a mask is not the end of the world. Hell, let’s get people vaxxed, approve it for young children, then throw them away forever. You know, DO SOMETHING to mitigate covid. Amazing really.

    1. So, as long as it’s not the end of the world, it’s all good? We can force people to do anything, as long as you don’t consider it too bad? Fuck off. Masks make my allergies worse and cause me lots of anxiety if I have one on for more than about 10 minutes. That shit matters. Stress shortens your life. You are killing me, asshole.

    2. “…JFC- a mask is not the end of the world…”

      So the burning question here is whether shitfordinner prefers the flavor of black or brown boots?
      Fuck off and die, slaver.

    3. I’m on a road trip, in several states you never see a mask anyplace . Everyone seems so happy and healthy.

      1. Last time I checked, it’s not my kids’ responsibility to make the screeches and pussies feel safe. If you’re too stupid to realize they aren’t a threat to you, then look in the mirror and tell that guy to fuck himself.

    4. “Hell, let’s get people vaxxed, approve it for young children, then throw them away forever.”

      Bullshit. There is no “throw them away forever” with you. Covid is going endemic, and there will always be a miniscule chance of infection and death from it for years come, and as long as that is the case, you pants-shitters will be advocating for mask mandates. Two weeks to flatten the curve…

  14. And I don’t mean the above to be an insult, I merely mean point out that which is close to home is what’s going to get you animated.
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  15. Vote for nanny state policies and you get the nanny state… What the hell is so hard to understand about this?

    If pols get the chance to take your rights or increase their power, you’re not gonna undo that. One of the major premises of our governing system is restricting the power of pols to do such things, unless feckless Dims keep voting for security over liberty.

  16. All the crap that was supposedly discovered by these various studies in CA has been known since last winter. Euros – especially the Nordic countries – largely went to school w/o masks or most any other restriction last fall/winter. They all saw very low rates of transmission, hospitalization, and death. Old news.

  17. Even more evidence that quarantines of the healthy are nothing more than hygiene theater. The teachers unions are pushing all this nonsense so their members can get paid to do nothing.

  18. Speaking of American pediatric science illiteracy….we never talk about the epidemic that is killing the most kids – cancer. 1,200 kids under age 15 die of cancer every year. It’s the 2nd leading cause of death after accidents.

    Yet we still dump 200 million pounds of glyphosate onto food crops every year….no outrage there. It was just pulled off the residential-use market because of causing cancer.

  19. Quarantining children isn’t to protect teachers from viruses, it’s to protect teachers from their screaming, temper tantrums, and unwillingness to do their homework, all threatening the teachers’ psychological well being. Why do you hate teachers?

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