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Appalling Reality: COVID Cases Covered Up for Political Purposes

August 22, 2020

Today’s NYTimes reports that in some school districts COVID-19 cases are not being reported to parents, presumably in the name of privacy… but ultimately in the name of politics. And, as a result, parents, teachers, and public health officials are distraught. As Times reporter Dan Levin writes:

As schools in parts of the country have reopened classrooms amid a still-raging pandemic, some districts have been open about coronavirus cases in their buildings. They send weekly — and in some cases, daily — reports to families and updating online dashboards with the latest positive test results and quarantine counts.

But others districts have been silent, sometimes citing privacy concerns to withhold information, to the dismay of some anxious parents, concerned educators and public health experts trying to combat the pandemic.

If schools don’t notify, it actually can make disease control more difficult,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “And it’s not like no one will know. Word will get out through a rumor mill. You don’t scare people by telling them what’s going on. You scare them by hiding information.”

What is particularly frustrating is that the ultimate rationale for withholding the information from teachers, parents, and students is not based on their health and well being or the health and well being of their communities: it’s based on politics at the state and national level.

In many places, reopening schools has taken on a distinctly partisan bent, with President Trump and Republican governors such as Ron DeSantis of Florida urging in-person instruction. A constant flow of information about positive cases in classrooms and quarantined students could hinder those efforts, experts said.

When schools have to shut down after students test positive, that doesn’t look good politically on governors and lawmakers who have advocated for opening up,” said Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida. “So the potential is there to hide behind privacy laws.

“There are definitely battle lines drawn, and the release of information can sway public opinion.”

After reading the article, I could only conclude that the administrators citing privacy laws as the rationale for withholding information about active cases in their schools are either misinformed or disingenuous. Indeed, the US Department of Education and Health Department issued statements clarifying that in a pandemic releasing such information was permitted and helpful in stopping the spread of the disease. And school districts in Florida are effectively discouraging remote learning by denying access to some advanced courses to those who opt out of in person attendance.

As noted repeatedly in this blog since facts about this disease became clearer over the course of the summer, reopening under the circumstances we face today with the pandemic makes no sense. Articles like this, which indicate that many districts are reopening with weak reporting protocols, underscore that stance. We will not be able to shake this pandemic until we uniformly and completely shut down for a more extended period than we have thus far. The disease cannot be wished away or denied.

 

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