Back to School? You First!

Covid-19 imageThe San Joaquin Valley, from Stockton on south to Bakersfield, is a hot spot for the spread of the Coronavirus, the persistent killer that has raged through the nation almost exactly the way public health experts said it would. In what has become typical local reasoning, many of the Valley’s elected leaders have decided the rising infection numbers mean we should reopen our schools.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow has been especially persistent in pressing for reopening.

“We should be willing to take risks for our kids. I know I would,” he said at last week’s board meeting, arguing that Stanislaus County’s 0.017% death rate from Covid-19 means the benefit of restarting school outweighs the cost of allowing the virus to spread.

It’s true the death rate from Covid-19 seems miniscule when cited as a percentage of total population, but it’s also true that death is only one of several severely negative consequences from allowing the virus to spread. For example, Stanislaus County Intensive Care Units (ICU) have been at our near capacity since early July. As of August 3, they were 85% occupied.

The county’s infection rate, at or near the worst percentage in the state for weeks, like its ICU capacity, puts Stanislaus County below state standards for reopening businesses and schools. On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom was cautiously optimistic about the decline in infection rates statewide, but added that the greatest area of concern is the San Joaquin Valley, where infection rates are often double the state’s rate of 7%. Stanislaus County’s rate, as of Monday, was 24.9%, over three times the state average.

Back in April, seven of the county’s nine mayors petitioned the Governor to allow businesses to reopen on the grounds that their cities are unlike the coastal metropolises that initially had huge numbers of infection rates. The two mayors who opposed reopening did so because they understand the fundamentals of science and data.

“I am taking a more conservative, balanced, data-driven approach to this, because our numbers are still going up,” explained Patterson Mayor Deborah Novelli.

Enslen School 5 August 2020 Modesto
Covid Lab?

“Conservative, balanced, data-driven” approaches should be the baseline metric during a pandemic that has killed over 150,000 American citizens in five months, but it’s too much of a stretch for most Valley mayors and supervisors, who seem to have learning disabilities when it comes to understanding the consequences of infection rates on a given population, to wit, their own.

Local leaders who pushed to reopen and ignored health professionals’ advice to wear masks and practice social distancing protocols are now looking at the highest infection rates in the state and still pushing to open our schools.

Ongoing research has recently shown children can carry as large loads of Coronavirus as adults, though they usually don’t get as sick as older people. Children’s roles in spreading the disease haven’t yet been sufficiently assessed, but given the rising rates of infection in states and regions that have resisted control measures, there’s every reason to believe we need more research before opening our schools.

Color-coded maps routinely show Covid-19 hot spots in bright red. It may be only a coincidence that the same color is used for a political party whose leader has disregarded the recommendations of public health experts from the very beginning of the pandemic’s arrival in the United States. Perhaps it’s comforting to local leaders to be thinking in concert with a president who has consistently ignored science while pressing states to reopen businesses and schools, but Valley citizens strongly disagree.

In fact, given their tendencies to routinely draw false inferences, perhaps it’s our elected leaders who should be going back to school — they might provide good test cases while pondering the meaning ofexponential growth.”

Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. 4th try. Investigate further. your cap system below has failed and failed and failed. Numbers reported in the USA are over inflated. If this post goes through, I will add more, but tired of typing and re-typing comments only to have yoru cap system below fail…

    • It is easy to be suspicious about statisitics, since “Figures Lie and Liars Figure” is pretty well embedded in our culture.
      So, how do we get to the truth? Of course most of us are reacting to what we hear and read, with no personal experience of the issue. Even going to a local ER room and finding a lot of people there doesn’t say their ICU beds are nearly all occupied.
      We need our local hospitals, Memorial, Doctors, Emmanuel and Kaiser to speak out on this very important issue. Are they nearly full or is this claim a lie?
      Damon, maybe you and I could do a phone investigation together? I would really like to know the truth too.- Richard Anderson

  2. Terry Withrow can be the first to put his kids back into schools……
    In the meantime, I’m up-to-here with the maskless morons that terrorize local businesses and these establishments don’t do anything to about it. Perhaps they’re afraid of the drama, or even violence that ensues when an entitled maskless moron is asked to put on a mask. It is no wonder that Stanislaus county leads the state with infection rates.
    The real reason there is a push to get kids back in school is to get the parents back to work and the real reason for that, is because companies bottom lines are falling out . No workers, no product. But if kids were in school and parents at work, the infection rate goes even higher.
    COVID 19 is Russian roulette with your health. If you get it, you might breeze through it OK, but your chances of it being deadly serious are pretty good too. People of all ages can die from this; it’s almost impossible to tell who that will be .
    I think if kids went back to school, we’d be seeing a hi death rate for kids and the school personnel as well.

    • And let’s not forget while companies yell to reopen the Senate is ready to pass a bill that absolves them from any liability for people contracting and or dying from the Virus. If it’s so safe what are they worried about. Call your senators tell them it’s not acceptable to have companies push people back to work but take no responsibility

  3. Kids with AUTISM, ADHD don’t sit well at a desk and will not sit at a computer our kids with IEPs have been forgotten about.
    Make early bird and late bird classes if the goal is to have less kids in the classes. A special plan needs to be made for our SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS!

  4. Last spring was crisis education. This fall, even students with ADHD and autism, WILL be educated. even if they were back in a classroom, it would NOT look like the pre-COVID classroom. At home, students with different learning needs won’t have to wear a mask, keep their distance, or worry about infecting classmates or staff. Teachers have been receiving professional development ask summer long, to name this a great learning experience. It will be different. AND it will be safe.

  5. In my opinion The entire Board of Stanislaus County should be RECALLED for they arw elected officals that keep the County Health Department performing or in the case of COVID 19 notperforming. Something wrong with County health when there are so many COVID 19 cases in the county. How can you open schools or business with numbers of COVid19 cases in the county? It a failure of our elected County Board of supervisors,

  6. How can local businesses be expected to enforce wearing masks when the local police won’t even do it? Businesses have no police power. Keeping out the unmasked without legal authority is difficult and dangerous because of hotheads who think their rights exceed the rights of others.
    As far as Supervisor Withrow goes, is the public now allowed to attend Supervisor meetings? Without masks? Over 100 of Withrow’s constituents have died from a virus that could have been stopped and he considers the deaths statistically insignificant? Fellow citizens, you now know he does not give a damn about your well being. Turn him out of office next election and vote for someone who cares.
    The schools are responsible for protecting kids. They should not be influenced by know-nothing politicians.

  7. Why does there have to be a one size fits all solution? Is it because our schools are over regulated? Why can’t we have a hybrid solution. Could we have delayed openings with smaller outdoor classes maybe even taught part time These could be taught by teachers who are willing and low risk. Higher risk teachers could teach on line. Parents who are not comfortable sending kids to school can opt for online and home schooling combos.. This is not easy to manage but we pay school administrators a lot of money per year. If they could put their efforts towards creativity and flexibility instead of bean counting perhaps we could come up with hybrid solutions that would get us through this time. There are parents who cannot work because of childcare. It is difficult to work from home with children under foot and if you have multiple children you will spend your mornings getting them all on zoom and watching your internet service crash. If parents cannot work because of childcare this affects their ability to pay the bills, and our local economy. If our public school system is inflexible then people will go elsewhere for education and they may not return.
    This could increase charter schools and decrease public education. If public schools want to stay alive, they need to address the needs of children and parents and the health of teachers They need to be flexible and figure out what they can do instead of what they can’t do.

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