Op-Ed: Please close Shorecrest High School

Saturday, March 7, 2020

From a Shorecrest parent

Dear Principal Gonzalez, Superintendent Miner and Superintendent Reykdal:

This is an appeal I'd prefer not to make: please close Shorecrest High School.

Until we, as a society, have a better handle on the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), herding kids into classrooms is irresponsible.

My daughter is a senior at your school. She enjoys solid college prospects. She is unable to simply skip her classes until the we have a better understanding of the extent of the virus, more test kits available in our community, and reasonable quarantine facilities established.

You, however, could do the sensible thing -- and close the school.

We're at a dangerous phase of this virus. While Shoreline School District hesitates to close facilities until they've confirmed a case of coronavirus, the virus is indisputably "in the wild." As of this writing, Washington has sustained 13 fatalities, eleven of which took place at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland. "Ground Zero" in our state has killed more people than any other infection site in America, and that hot zone is bubbling away less than ten miles from your desk.

But you haven't closed the school.

Let's imagine for a moment that this virus has the case fatality rate currently reported by the World Health Organization, which is 3.4%. That would indicate (if I remember my school math at all) that there were 382 people infected in our community. Only 70 have been identified as I write this. The rest are still out there, infecting others wherever they go.

But you haven't closed the school.

What if the case fatality rate is much lower, say around the CFR of seasonal flu? That's about 0.1%, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If novel coronavirus is no more fatal on a case-by-case basis than flu, then we're looking at known coronavirus deaths emerging from a much larger infected pool of about 13,000 people -- each of them walking around, working, shopping, opening doors, and shaking hands. To reach this reassuring CFR, we have to assume that most will never show enough symptoms for testing. You don't know -- you CAN'T know -- how many Shorecrest students have been exposed. You'll never know how many get infected, as kids aren't much distressed by it. The threat you're posing isn't to your students. It's to the rest of us.

And you haven't closed the school.

State guidance may argue in favor of simply observing careful social hygiene (among kids?), but every kid at your school has family at home. Your decision to keep the school operational puts every student at high risk of contracting novel coronavirus. Every parent knows that our kids swap germs like trading cards -- and bring them home. "Kids get mild cases" is the most irresponsible reason I can imagine for continuing to water and fertilize a public virus ranch.

Washington is in a state of emergency, yet you haven't closed the school.

My daughter would like to maintain her G.P.A. It's currently over 3.9 points. She has college admissions and scholarships riding on her hard work. She won't be able to graduate strong without continued school attendance, so she risks daily, physical, in-person attendance.

Because you haven't closed the school.

She's been crying this week over the choice between her future and my safety. She knows I belong to two high-risk categories. If I contract novel coronavirus, I'm likely to die of it. So I'm asking you to close the school, but not for my sake.

Close the school because you and I both know many other people put at needless risk by keeping Shorecrest open, including grandparents, transplant recipients, lupus sufferers, et al. This isn't about me. It's about us: the community that is served by, and which supports, Shorecrest High School.

You need to close that school.

Your colleagues in the North Shore District made a different, better decision. Your colleagues at the University of Washington made a different, better decision. If those schools can close classrooms and institute distance learning, surely Shorecrest can do as much. Your faculty and staff are savvy and technologically literate; our students are sharp and eager; surely a high school in the well-funded Shoreline School District is as well-equipped as our neighbors in the Northshore School District.

Why haven't you closed your school?

I urge you to make the responsible choice, Principal Gonzalez, and close Shorecrest High. Stop waiting for a permission slip from Gov. Inslee. SPI Chris Reykdal doesn't live in our community and doesn't have to care, but you do. Shoreline Superintendent Rebecca Miner may not take this precaution, but you can.

Close the school.

Do your part, time now, to rein in the spread of novel coronavirus in a county that federal officials already urge our fellow Americans not to visit.

Err on the side of good sense, make a plan, and close the school.

Thank you.

Jack Llewyllson, proud parent of a Shorecrest Scot


Keith Scully,  March 8, 2020 at 2:49 PM  

Outbreaks are one of the hardest things to process emotionally because there’s no action item. As parents and citizens we generally just wait and hope. And that’s hard and we all want to do something. I’m not an epidemiologist and even if I looked up all the data and authority this letter claims to have reviewed, and all the footnotes and all the authority those articles cite, I wouldn’t be in a position to accurately evaluate whether it is safer to keep schools closed or open.

But there are epidemiologists working on this. We pay tax dollars to them, at CDC, King County Public Health, and the state. And they’ve issued a series of recommendations that the Shoreline School District is following.

As a parent of children in the Shoreline schools, I hope the district continues to follow expert advice and doesn’t give in to anger or emotion, no matter how understandable it is that we’re feeling helpless and want action.

Keith Scully

Colin March 8, 2020 at 8:46 PM  

Before looking at these projections in more detail, it will help to try to put Covid-19 into some perspective. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the 2018-19 flu season resulted in 35.5 million flu cases in the U.S., nearly half a million hospitalizations, and nearly 35,000 deaths. So far, and of course this could change, I’ve seen no credible projections that the harm from Covid-19 will come close.

Now realize that the above figures mean that last year’s flu infected more than 10 percent of the U.S. population. Around 1.5 percent of those people were hospitalized; roughly 7 percent of those hospitalized died.

What would the situation look like in China today if those same percentages prevailed with Covid-19 there? Most of China’s cases have been in Hubei province, population around 58 million. China has reported about 75,000 cases and fewer than 3,000 deaths. If Covid-19 hit the province as hard as the flu did last year in the U.S., the numbers would be far higher – translating into nearly 6 million cases, 90,000 hospitalizations, and more than 6,000 deaths.

Since Covid-19 was first identified in China, the death rate there has fallen from above 3 percent to under half of 1 percent. That dramatic decline is largely attributed to China’s learning curve in treating the virus. Other countries have learned from China. For example, Germany has reported more than 600 cases, none resulting in death.

Turning to another major outbreak, the 2009 flu pandemic that began in the U.S. and Mexico was catastrophic. It killed as many as 1 million people across the globe. And it coincided with the Great Recession. But it wasn’t the cause of the recession, nor did it have any apparent impact on the recovery.

All this makes it pertinent to ask why Covid-19 is causing such outsized anxiety here. The media has focused on each new case and each new fatality. It has paid far less attention to the fact that the initially high death rate in China has dropped by about 80 percent. It also has largely ignored the unusual fact that the virus seems largely to spare children, which should greatly help rein in its spread. But I’m not blaming the media. There’s more to it than that.

Benard Hudson March 11, 2020 at 4:39 PM  

The biggest worry here is the incubation period and the delayed showing of symptoms. You mentioned China, what did China do that is comparable to what we are doing? Have we quarantined an entire city? Have we built makeshift hospitals on the fly to handle the pandemic? Have we tested en mass an affected area?

China just discovered a second strain of this virus...meaning there is a possibly for it to mutate into something much nastier and more deadly. As you know, we are now conducting limited testing, we have no clue what the actual infection numbers are. Yes, children are not in the high risk group (right now) but they do not live alone. They can still be infected and since the symptoms are largely mild or asymptomatic there is a high chance that they may infect relatives who are in the high risk group...my 2 cents.

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