March 21, 2021

Zombie preparedness

Way back in my past, I was a teacher, elementary level, at the state psychiatric hospital in Austin. One of my first real jobs as an adult was working with children with serious mental health issues, some autistic, others with histories of abuse, others with rare disorders, all seriously ill. We taught in small groups, success was measured in increments, mostly I focused on my relationship with each of my students, who often had never had a positive relationship before. I learned quickly that some of them could not tolerate frustration. It is one of the reasons I became interested in New Games, because we refocused competition. For instance in a regular game of dodge ball, if you got hit, you would be eliminated. This would lead to meltdowns and tears. But if we simply had them switch sides, suddenly everything changed. They could still play hard but without the angst and failure. This was more fun for everyone.

As teachers, we were challenged to address much of the behaviors that could cause disruption in class. Most of the children had attention deficit issues, so finding a simple rule was key to keeping order. Hence, the “Six Foot Rule”. This was not the “pandemic 6 foot rule of distancing”, but the rule of keeping all four legs of your chair on the floor, along with your two legs. It worked beautifully- less chairs falling over, less “accidental” kicking, more cooperation and more learning.

I have thought about this “Six Foot Rule” multiple times over the past year, when advising people about keeping a safe distance. Now the CDC has come out with new guidelines about the distance needed in schools- they have decreased the recommended distance from six to three feet. This will make it much easier for schools to meet the criteria safely and reopen. There have been mixed recommendations and mixed results over the past year. Some schools have done better than others by enforcing masking, distancing, and contact tracing. Some outbreaks were traced back to the teachers’ break room where they infected each other, rather than from students. Other data shows though that overall infections in a community may increase when school is in session. These contradictory data have made it challenging to give advice.

But we know more now. We know that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted in the air, so that the three foot distance in younger children makes more sense. Their pipes are smaller, therefore their respirations don’t have as much air movement, so people can be close to them without transmission, especially if wearing a mask. Think piccolo instead of a flute. Children’s trachea and airways are much smaller than adults and their respirations don’t push the air as far as an adult. The smaller airway is why children are more susceptible to diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) or diphtheria and others, which can more easily cause blockage of the trachea. But for COVID-19 purposes, those smaller pipes decrease the aerosols released that can infect. To be safer, masking and contact tracing are advised and teachers encouraged to be immunized.

I wrote earlier about the CDC’s reputation harmed by how the pandemic was managed and sadly influenced politically. The new director is working hard to repair their reputation, so that we feel we can trust them again. She has her work cut out for her and I hope she succeeds. We need a strong and apolitical CDC, unless of course they are taking about Zombie Preparedness.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, and keep safe six (unless you are 6, then 3 feet is OK)

Service announcement reminder: I have cut back my writing to 3-4 days a week, so I can catch up with sleep and some chores, but I am still paying attention and will keep sharing.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading. rare in schools