The big decision of the past week was the governor’s delay of the start of public schools in Kansas, which strikes us as a prudent move.
Virus numbers are surging throughout the state, including the Manhattan region, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to open schools unless that can be controlled. Opening schools is very important to society, and so we also understand the need to continue to push ahead.
On one level, it would be most prudent to just close schools until there’s a vaccine. Clearly gathering 2,000 people together in one building every weekday — which is what happens at Manhattan High — is not what a scientist would recommend. It will doubtless result in new infections.
Can appropriate measures limit those infections? Yes, clearly, the wearing of masks could cut the numbers, as could good hygiene. The real risk is the infection of older teachers and staff members, who would likely be more at risk than teenagers or younger kids in middle schools and elementary schools.
Those measures will have to be followed rigorously, or else schools will simply have to close. Because there are all sorts of thorny issues: If a student has a confirmed case, does that mean all of the teachers in his classes have to take two weeks off the job at home in quarantine? Do all the other students in all his classes? What if a teacher has a confirmed case? Do all of her students have to get tested? Do they all have to go home? Who pays for the tests? Do teachers get paid time off, or do they have to burn their own vacation?
The thing is, we as a community have to get better control of the virus right now if we want to have any chance of having a sustained school year. We have to get control of it if we have any prayer of having in-person college continue.
The governor’s order for a delay gives us a slim chance to get on top of it. People are generally complying with mask requirements, and that will help. But people can’t just decide to give up, and let their kids go to sleepovers, and insist on walking around the grocery store mask-free.
The numbers here aren’t surging out of control as they were only a couple of weeks ago. But they are still growing, far faster than they did when the whole community was locked down in March and April.
We should note that there’s reason for hope, too. Scientists are clearly making progress toward a vaccine, and toward therapeutics and far better testing. We just have to do our best to give them time by controlling our own behavior.