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Why Some Nations Are Figuring Out How to Open Schools

We’ve actually heard some good news from European countries like Denmark, Germany, Austria, and Norway. These nations have figured out ways to reopen their schools, some as early as mid-April and early May, without seeing significant increases in COVID-19 cases.

And, according to the New York Times, “Experts are cautiously optimistic that sending children back to school may be relatively safe.” 

The model country, so far, is Denmark. “While the reproduction rate of the virus increased after the country began reopening, it has since dropped,” according to the reports. So how have these countries pulled this off?

  • The schools have reopened the campuses slowly and methodically.
  • They waited for a low baseline of infections in the country.
  • They all have monitored the social distancing between students.
  • Most of them provide special face shields (plastic masks) for students.
  • They send any student home who shows symptoms of infection.

“Opening the schools has really not been translated into any imprint in the transmission numbers,” professor Riis Paludan said from Aarhus University. Medical leaders remain vigilant and guarded. “It cannot be said they’ve (completely) reopened; they’ve opened the door a few centimeters,” Ralf Reintjes, professor of epidemiology and surveillance at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, reported, adding: “It’s very early to say what effects this will have.” Educational administrators know the virus is very complex with many factors to consider. But they are opening schools nonetheless. And the students and parents are cooperating.

What’s the difference between the U.S. rise in COVID-19 cases and other countries’ decline? 

Our renegade spirit.

Can We Tame Our Spirit?

America was built by pioneers, independent thinkers, and renegades who wanted to escape the control of King George in Britain. Today, we still don’t like being told what to do. I get that. I have my own little rebel inside of me rearing its head when I feel someone is trying to seize control of my life. 

This spirit, however, may be part of our challenge today. 

When I see footage of beaches and bars packed with young adults partying, not practicing social distancing, and throwing caution to the wind, I feel it’s no wonder we’ve seen a spike. The very independence that built this country into a strong democracy must now pivot. Could it be that we now need to learn how to cooperate with best practices and follow some rules? 

I heard of a young male who spent an evening in a crowd because no one was going to tell him what to do. It’s un-American. Unfortunately, that young man returned home after having been exposed to the virus, and now his grandmother has been infected. 

My question is: Was the party worth it?

Do you realize that several health officials are quitting their jobs because people are bullying them when they’ve encouraged the public to stay quarantined, wear masks, and wash their hands? Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said attacks on health officials have been particularly awful in California, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody resign for the kinds of reasons we’ve seen recently,” Plescia said. “We are very concerned that if it continues to get worse, it’s going to have major implications for who will be willing to have these jobs.”

Simple but Profound Ways to Tame Our Spirit 

Let me offer some strategies I am using to tame the wild stallion inside me and follow the rules our medical community is giving us:

  1. I wear a mask in public places, not because of my comfort level but for the comfort of others around me and for them to feel safe.
  2. I try to maintain my quarantine, not because I fear getting infected but I want my family and teammates to not worry about getting infected by me.
  3. I wash my hands, not only because I want to avoid the virus, but because my wife asks me to do so several times each day.  
  4. I watch 30 minutes of news every day, not because I fear the worst, but because I want to stay abreast of the big picture and play my role in improving our reality.

It’s all about remembering others and seeing the whole picture. Perhaps if we can convince our students to become mindful of others, they’ll be able to tame their spirits, follow the guidelines, and collaborate.

A memorable story from the Himalayas serves as a parable for me. It’s the tale of four mountain climbers who were returning from the top of the crest when a blizzard swept across the area. Temperatures dropped so severely the men were in danger of freezing to death. Ultimately one of the men dropped to the ground unconscious.

Immediately, two of the others acknowledged the horrible situation their buddy was in but knew if they didn’t forge ahead, they’d all die. They decided to leave their friend in the snow. The third climber couldn’t do it. He told them to go ahead, but that he’d try to hoist their fallen friend on his shoulders and carry him to the base. As he trudged through the ice for an hour, he was shocked to find his two buddies lying dead in the snow, frozen to death. He, on the other hand, survived because the body heat generated from carrying his friend had kept him alive. 

This is the spirit that will save us all.

1 Comment

  1. tg on August 6, 2020 at 11:48 am

    I agree that our independent American life style is what is holding us back. You write, “When I see footage of beaches and bars packed with young adults partying…” but in my experience some of the young adults I know are the most cautious and it is the 40-80 year old demographic I see not adhering to the recommendations. I just think that sometimes our young people get a bad reputation. There are certainly people of all ages that do and don’t follow guidelines and I just wanted to not generalize all young people as rule breakers. Thanks for your work, Dr. Elmore. It is powerful.

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Why Some Nations Are Figuring Out How to Open Schools