Opinion: Misinformation, inaction and politics seem to be limiting Kentucky schools’ response to recent increase in Covid-19 cases

By Kevin Kavanagh

As Kentucky’s fall school year commences it has achieved another first in the nation, first to have two school district closings associated with Covid-19. Politics, inaction and disinformation seem to have paralyzed our Covid response and placed children and teachers in harm’s way.

The myth that children do not have to worry about Covid and other respiratory diseases is firmly rooted in our society, planted there by many of our leaders who have based their guidance on misinformation.

There have been multiple studies which have found that children readily spread the disease, placing susceptible family members and teachers at grave risk of becoming infected and developing “long Covid.” Sweden is often used as the poster child for Covid minimizers, but during the first week in December 2020 (the last available data) 70% of public environment (non-health-care related) Covid-19 outbreaks in Sweden were in preschools, primary and grammar schools.

Primary school teachers were 67% more likely to develop Covid-19 than the average occupation, higher than nurses and doctors. Secondary-school teachers were at a 48% higher risk.

Children are also at risk for long-term disabling effects. 12 to 16% of children had “long Covid” three to six months after infection. Covid-19 in children also almost doubles the risk of developing Type I diabetes, and there is also the risk of widespread organ system damage from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C). Post-Covid immune dysfunction is probably responsible for the large waves of RSV infections our children are experiencing. Covid minimizers need to internalize that Sweden, a country with little masking, also experienced large RSV spikes, thus, public-health interventions are not to blame.

No one truly knows the extent of the virus’s long-term effects and lately there has been little good news in this regard.

Source control is effective in preventing infections and involves both masking and high-quality ventilation.

Two-way masking is highly effective but also highly politicized. Masking can reduce indoor aerosols (i.e., viral particles) in schools by 69%. A healthy wearer of a mask is not fully protected, since they can still be exposed to viral particles through their eyes, but a mask on an asymptomatic carrier will interact with almost all of the exhaled viral particles. Well-fitted N95 or KN95 masks are much more effective than cloth masks.

Improving ventilation is less controversial than masking. Inadequate ventilation not only spreads disease but also affects students’ school performance. CO2 levels can be used as a screening tool for adequate ventilation. Outdoors, CO2 levels are below 500 ppm. Indoors, they should be below 870 ppm (preferably below 700 ppm). At higher CO2 levels there is an increased risk of contracting airborne diseases. Above 1000 ppm, decreased mental performance occurs which can affect a child’s learning in school, along with the performance of teachers.

Portable CO2 monitors can be purchased online and help parents identify safe indoor settings for their children.

Unfortunately, too many of our schools have unhealthy buildings with outdated HVAC systems. This will adversely impact our children’s learning, along with placing them at risk for acquiring respiratory diseases (RSV, flu and even colds). I felt the spending of Covid funds on outdoor sports and running tracks, as opposed to improvements in indoor air quality and Covid mitigation strategies, exemplified Kentucky’s embrace of disinformation and inability to safeguard the lives and well-being of our children.

Let’s make Kentucky the national leader in providing a safe educational environment for our children. The first and easiest steps will be to upgrade school ventilation and to respect parents who are masking their children.

Kevin Kavanagh of Somerset is a retired physician and chairman of Health Watch USA, a group concerned with infection control. This was first published in the Louisville Courier Journal.
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