Concerns were raised in state government circles when state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley provided an added local option to choices on managing COVID quarantines in our schools. This opinion piece is not written to advocate for or against this option but to have us think about the major question generated by the option controversy.
A long held wisdom is to begin with the end in mind. The truth is a major unanswered question in this epidemic in our state is “When does the epidemic end and how does it end?”.
The end will not be eradication of the virus. Any strategy based on this goal is doomed to failure. Instead, the goal is to stop the epidemic by managing the disease. Safe and effective vaccines, considerable natural immunity, and very promising therapeutics are having an impact. This virus will likely not be the dominant force in our lives too much longer.
The proposed option was to reconsider the benefits and risks of one of the mitigation strategies in our schools. Since each of these mitigation strategies brings with it significant disruption and unintended consequences, considering reversal of restrictions is just as important as the initiation of restrictions. Since the natural history of viral surges is predictable, we should be dialing masks, quarantines, and social distancing up and down depending on the viral load of the local community.
There are things we should always do. We should always encourage vaccines in adults, especially in the older, overweight, immunocompromised, or pregnant. We should continue to invest in research in new therapeutics. We should make an effort to develop an Operation Warp Speed for therapeutics. And we should make sure we don’t make the same mistake again of economic lockdowns and closure of schools for in school learning.
Dr. Brumley’s option exposed for discussion the principle that solutions are usually best developed by the people closest to the concerns. In this COVID epidemic, the decision-making has predominantly gone to federal and state governments – putting global decision-making in the hands of just a few. Whether we agree or not with Superintendent Brumley’s quarantine option, there is something to say for local accountability and local decision-making beyond state emergency status.
No matter what happens with Superintendent Brumley’s local option consideration, we need to be preparing to roll back quarantines, social distancing, and masking mandates in schools as the viral surge continues to abate. We need to do it in a stepwise fashion as proposed in Superintendent Brumley’s option and we need to start as soon as possible and complete it also as soon as possible. If a new variant emerges, we can mask up again. But in the meantime we need to get our schools, our economy, and our communities back on track.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist and past board chair of the NW Louisiana Med Society, Alliance for Education and Education’s Next Horizon.