V is for Ventilation

Ventilation is the most neglected and misunderstood of COVID mitigation methods; however, many epidemiologists and experts feel it may be a critical mitigation method, particularly as more virulent COVID variants are spreading around the globe. Before going much further, here is a quick review about how COVID is transmitted.From the beginning of the pandemic, it was obvious that COVID was transmitted via close contact with infected people who expelled small COVID-19 respiratory droplets when they coughed, sneezed, spoke, or sang. These small droplets are heavy, so they typically don’t travel farther than 6 feet, but if these droplets land in the mouth or nose and/or are inhaled, then a person would be exposed to COVID. Initially, close contact and surface transmission were considered to be the primary methods of COVID transmission; however, data has shown that surface transmission of COVID is limited. Of greater concern is airborne transmission where COVID is transmitted by aerosolized particles that are much smaller than respiratory droplets, <5 μm versus 60–100 μm, respectively. These tiny droplets evaporate faster; therefore, they can travel much farther than 6 feet and remain in the air for longer, particularly in areas with poor ventilation. It took until July 2020 for the airborne transmission method to be fully acknowledged by the World Health Organization after a letter from 239 scientists from 32 countries demanded revised guidance. In October…

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G is for CDC Safe School Guidance

Despite  a strong federal push to open schools during the first ten months of the  pandemic, there was inadequate federal guidance about how to safely open schools. In the absence of national guidance, over 13,000 school districts across the country worked with their state, health department, school leaders, and schools to develop thousands of school opening plans and mitigation strategies during the COVID pandemic. The result is a hodge-podge of school planning and COVID mitigation strategies across the country. “Rather than a political push to reopen schools, the update is a measured, data-driven effort to expand on old recommendations and advise school leaders how to "layer" the most effective safety precautions.” -NPRThis changed on February 12, 2021 when the CDC released new guidance to help school leaders bring students safely into the classroom, while simultaneously establishing mitigation plans to keep students in the classroom. The 33-page document extensively covers:Health equity considerationsHow to maintain safe in-person instruction at K-12 schools: layered mitigation strategies, community transmission indicators, phased mitigation, testing, and learning modes (in-person, hybrid, or virtual)Additional COVID-19 prevention measures: testing and vaccinationHealth Equity Considerations.Schools must recognize the long-standing social and health inequities among racial, ethnic, and economically-disadvantaged communities. As a result, schools must adjust communication, mitigation, education options, and resource allocation strategies in order to meet community needs and concerns.Five Layered Mitigation Strategies. The five key mitigation strategies…

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M is for Face Mask

All masks are not created equal. Students and staff are returning to in-person school and new COVID variants are arriving on our shores; therefore,  it is no longer good enough to wear a bandana or a loose single-layer cotton mask. Variants like B.1.117 from the United Kingdom have proven to be 50-74% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus, and reports indicate that the South African strain (501.V2 or B.1.351) is as contagious. (Lanese)  We don’t want to scare you, but a number of doctors have reported seeing patients who contracted COVID from masked grocery trips. Also, there is evidence that COVID particles can travel through or around the masks; however a study published in Germany concluded that there is a 45% reduction in new infections about 20 days after face mask mandates, which suggests that masks may be both an effective and cost-effective means to mitigate COVID-19. (Mitze)Who needs a mask? Everyone. Kids age 2 or older and adults should wear masks in public (i.e., when around people who are not members of the household.) This is especially important in enclosed locations, since COVID can be aerosolized, spread by virus droplets that can remain airborne and travel more than six feet. Aerosols spread best when people are in close contact and with low ventilation. The more people in a space, then the more COVID can…

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R is for COVID Risk in Schools

School closures and remote schooling have caused “heated discussions” (to say the least) in nearly every country, school district, and school around the world. In part, these volatile discussions were driven by early pandemic data indicating little COVID-19 transmission in schools. The studies conducted between March and July of 2020 seemed to indicate, with lots of caveats, that schools were not vectors for COVID. Of course, at the time, many schools were physically closed or conducting a combination of remote and in-person education, which may have influenced the data.Fall’s second wave through the US and Europe brought starkly different data from around the world. Suddenly, COVID was spiking in communities and in schools at VERY similar rates. These studies confirmed that children were bringing COVID back home to their families. Researchers found that teachers had even higher rates of COVID than in their communities, but were unable to determine whether this was due to spread in schools.What changed? Many countries increased comprehensive COVID testing. Previously, most studies and data included testing of obviously sick children, which missed large swaths of contagious but asymptomatic children. Most likely COVID positive children were undercounted through Spring and Summer of 2020.An Austrian study from September to November 2020 included comprehensive testing of students. In this study, students were as likely to get infected with COVID as their teachers, but they…

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W is for What is my COVID Risk?

Every time you walk out the door, you wonder whether you may catch COVID and bring it home with you. Even with a mask, proper handwashing, and social distancing, how risky is it to leave your household? A December report of 700 epidemiologists surveyed by the New York Times felt outdoor activities and touching surfaces were low-risk, but indoor activities and those with larger groups were the riskiest activities, including:Indoor diningWedding/funeral/churchConcert/SportingIndoor playdatesShared office workExtended indoor activities involve heavy risk of COVID transmission. Masks and proper ventilation can mitigate, but not eliminate risk, particularly the longer, the closer, the louder, and the more numerous the parties in the room. https://twitter.com/DrEricDing/status/1335345549889982467?s=20Other scientists have tackled the idea of risk head by developing online risk calculators which determine COVID risk based on activity type, time period, number of people, and mitigation factors. 19 and Me  https://19andme.covid19.mathematica.org/ collects location and basic health data to determine your probability of catching COVID and your associated risk of hospitalization, ICU, and death. By entering my personal information, I found my risk of catching COVID from my normal VERY low risk activities was .04%, so I felt safe until I saw that 19 and Me estimated that Fairfax County has an underreporting of COVID by half, meaning that twice as many people are likely walking around with COVID than reported. If I caught COVID, I had…

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L is for Long-Haul COVID

At this moment in the United States, there have been 20 million cases of COVID, but it is unknown how many of those have experienced long-term COVID complications that range from mild (fatigue and a persistent cough) to more severe medical problems (breathing and heart issues) that last for weeks or months. Doctors are still trying to figure out the causes of these lasting effects on the lung, heart, and other organs caused by inflammation associated with COVID.   This is one story of a long-haul COVID survivor from Alexis Crumbley initially posted her story on Facebook on September, 16, 2020 (reprinted in full with permission from the author). At the time of this posting, Alexis’ Facebook post has been shared by over 229,000 people, received over 26,000 comments, and inspired 102,000 bit emojis.   The Crumbley family at Stonehenge before flying back to the US in March. Shortly after this photo was taken, upon return to the U.S., Alexis Crumbley was hospitalized with high fever and intense chest pain. From left: Susan, Alexis, Claire and Christopher Crumbley. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Crumbley) So I might just delete this post.Anyways, here goes. Today is my six month anniversary of coming down with Covid. I’ve been dealing with the repercussions for SIX MONTHS. I didn’t want to share on Facebook before, but  I have shared privately with friends. Today I…

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T is for Teachers

Whether you are a parent or a student, you have at least one favorite teacher. If you are a parent, that teacher may be the one who helped you navigate the complicated world of special education services for your child or who would call you to share your child’s successes, rather than focus on their failures. If you are a student, that teacher may be the one who taught you to read, gave you lunch money, gave you a compliment, or helped you look at the world in a different way. Now, imagine if that teacher were no longer there. Thousands of students, families, schools, and communities have been faced with that horrible reality as teachers and education staff have been stricken by COVID and died. Alexandra Robbins, an education reporter and author, evaluates how teachers have been excluded from the pandemic school decision-making process, while organized parent groups have heavily influenced decision-makers. The “callous disregard” for the lives of education staff has hit teachers and other staff hard. It has made them question their professions, particularly when some parents and decision-makers treat them as replaceable or disposable and disparage them on social media.Ms. Robbins describes many educators who have lost their lives, but we would like to point out a few not mentioned in her story whose lives have had an outsized impact in their school…

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P is for Patience

We are new here, so pardon our mess…or lack of mess, because this is our first blog and the website is only about a day old. As such, this will be short as we find our voice in this world. 

We are parents and educators working together who would like to communicate about and advocate for safety in the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system using science and research as our guide. That is a pretty broad goal, so we are working out the specifics, but promise to keep you informed in the meantime. 


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