COVID Reading: January 31, 2021

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention published an opinion piece in the online medical journal JAMA on January 26, 2021. They argue that the risk mitigation measures some PK-12 schools are implementing around the world are working and schools do not significantly contribute to community transmission. “Data and Policy to Guide Opening Schools Safely to Limit the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Infection” cites many studies in schools that demonstrate schools can safely offer on-campus teaching and learning, especially Early Childhood and Elementary School programs. Sadly for someone like me that loves interscholastic sports competitions, they do not recommend holding events with other schools. Atlantic writer Derek Thompson comments on CDC report in the article, “The Truth about Kids, School, and COVID-19“.

The German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel interviewed virologist Christian Drosten “I Am Quite Apprehensive about What Might Otherwise Happen in Spring and Summer“. Dr. Drosten’s concern about the spring stems from the fact that with many elderly being vaccinated, pressure will mount to open daily life and the number of cases will rise again, causing pressure on the health system. Drosten confirms the lethality of COVID, stating that the mortality rate is 1.1% in Germany, which is 10x greater than influenza.

For subscribers, The Economist article “How fast can vaccination against covid-19 make a difference?” demonstrates that in Israel where abundant vaccination has already taken place, the number of elderly COVID patients seeking critically ill care dropped significantly.

Finally, the Uzbekistan news outlet, Gazeta, reported yesterday that the British COVID variant was detected on January 23. I have lots of questions about the report and will be looking into it with local experts.

My Latest thinking on the pandemic

Dr. David Willows, the Advancement Director at the International School of Brussels writes in this week’s AAIE (Association for the Advancement of International Education) that the pandemic may have dramatically shifted what families are looking for in schools. This 2-year, once-in-a-century crisis has made us reevaluate what is important in our lives. That includes K-12 schooling. Parents and students are asking themselves are the long hours, stress and work that typically define a “high-powered” international school worth it. Of course, much of what K-12 schools and especially secondary schools do is driven by the expectations and admission requirements of universities. However, I sense, like Dr. Willows does, that the pandemic has pushed the discussion further to schools moving away from traditional subjects, individualizing education and for schools to make the learning experiences more relevant to our daily lives. With the individualization comes a focus on well-being and helping young people find their niche in our school communities and the global community.

This graphic from the McKinsey Report shows executives see a muted long-term recovery (A1)

Willows refers to the June 2020 McKinsey Report analyzing the global economy and national economies. My takeaway from reading the summary of the report is that it will be a long road to recovery and for international schools, it may mean that it will take longer to get back to enrollment figures from the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

Former TIS Director Kevin Glass, now head of the Atlanta International School was featured in this week’s AAIE briefing. He broke down the latest CDC Report “COVID Trends Among Persons Aged 0-24 Years in the USA from March to December, 2020“. The report shows the following:

  • The highest risk group to get infected are 18-24 year olds, 15% higher than even adults. That does not bode well for in-person, university study.
  • Children 17 years old and younger are less susceptible than adults. High School students are 78% less likely to get infected than adults. Middle School students 55% of the risk of adults and Elementary School students 40% of the risk of adults.
  • Community transmission is the same or even less in communities with on-campus learning versus virtual learning. This sounds counterintuitive but the hygiene discipline schools teach, lowers transmission rates. The CDC recommends closure of K-12 on-campus learning to be one of the last mitigation efforts to be implemented and schools reopening to be one of the first actions when lessening restrictions.
  • CDC strongly recommends elementary and middle schools to be open to on-campus learning, high schools with very strong protocols and universities to stay virtual.
  • The report of course highlights the limitations of the research and no studies were done with incident rates of school faculty and staff.
The latest figures from the WHO Tashkent Office

As you can see from the chart above published by the World Health Organization Tashkent office, the number of COVID cases in Uzbekistan and Tashkent remains low according to the official government statistics. Of course, no country is accurate with their statistics because not all cases are reported to hospitals or clinics. However, I think the relative trends are accurate with two spikes in July and September and a downward trend since then. TIS first reopened campus on October 5 and we stayed open through December 18 and into Winter Break. We are coming back to campus on Monday, January 25. I am busy with recruiting new teachers for next year and most of the people were are talking to are on Virtual Learning and/or lockdown in their countries. We are fortunate that the pandemic is quiet in Uzbekistan for the time being.

In reading news and research about COVID, many scientists and doctors are concerned about the variants of coronavirus that are appearing around the world. Early research shows some variants are more infectious (UK 2x as infectious) and research is focusing on the vaccines effectiveness against these variants. In Dr. Fauci’s first press conference as the lead advisor to the new Biden administration, he sounded optimistic that the vaccines do offer adequate protection against the variants and pharmaceutical companies are able to adjust vaccines as necessary to protect against new variants.

2021 CEESA Conference Announcement

Teacher professional development around the world is still mostly online and in our Central & Eastern Europe Schools Association region is not an exception. Below is the announcement of the 2021 CEESA Virtual Conference that is hosted by the American International School of Budapest from March 11-13, 2021. Harnessing the Power of Disruption is the theme. The pandemic certainly has disrupted everything that schools do. This major disruption has given all of us carte blanche to remake teaching and learning.

COVID News & Opinion

Kishore Nath holds a vaccination card provided to residents who have been given the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Viamonte, a retirement community in Walnut Creek, Calif., on December 30, 2020. Credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez Getty Images

Covid-19 patients who recovered from the disease still have robust immunity from the coronavirus eight months after infection, according to a new study. The result is an encouraging sign that the authors interpret to mean immunity to the virus probably lasts for many years, and it should alleviate fears that the covid-19 vaccine would require repeated booster shots to protect against the disease and finally get the pandemic under control.

Patel, Neel V. MIT Technology Review January 6, 2021

It is encouraging news coming out of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California. The study of 185 recovered patients from COVID show after 8 months, they still have immunity. The research led by Dr. Shane Crotty was published January 6, 2021 in the journal Science.

More good news coming from a survey featured in Scientific American that shows that 63% Americans want to take the vaccine. We need to get 60-90% of the population vaccinated to put the pandemic behind us. There are certain groups that are vaccine skeptical, but I would think most of the TIS community would take the vaccine.

I continue to read reports of COVID cases increasing all over the world. In my home country of the USA, there were more than 4,000 deaths on Thursday. Tokyo, Shijiazhuang, United Kingdom, and other cities and countries are on lockdown because of the spike in cases. I am concerned about if/when the next wave will come to Uzbekistan.

Finally, New Yorker contributor and author, Lawrence Wright was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air program on Thursday. He discusses his lengthy piece in a January issue of The New Yorker. The TIS library subscribes to The New Yorker. Below are links to articles I refer to in this blog post.

My Latest Thinking on COVID

The CDC announced last month “acceptable alternatives” to shorten the 14-day quarantine they recommend for all close contacts.

  • Alternative #1 – Contacts can reenter the community after Day 10 if no symptoms. The residual post-quarantine risk is estimated to be 1% with an upper limit of 10%.
  • Alternative #2 – Contacts can reenter the community after Day 7 if no symptoms and they test negative. The test must be within 48 hours before the planned return (Day 5 or Day 6). The residual post-quarantine risk is estimated to be 5% with an upper limit of 12%.
  • Note – With both alternatives, continued symptom monitoring, masking, etc. must take place through Day 14.

I am pleased the CDC reduced the 14-day quarantine because it was quite the burden on families and our school. The increased risks with the two alternatives are low enough in my opinion for us to implement these alternatives as policy. Of course in the case of a major outbreak, we would stick with the 14-day quarantine, but with low transmission in community as it is currently, we could implement the alternatives. I also see this note near the end of the report about people waiving quarantine protocols by showing a high antibody count. The TIS COVID Response Team will seek advice from our medical experts to see if we will implement the new protocols.

Serologic testing: The utility of serologic testing to provide evidence of prior infection that would permit exclusion from quarantine has not been established and is not recommended for this purpose at this time

“Options to Reduce Quarantine for Contacts of Persons with SARS-CoV-2 Infection Using Symptom Monitoring and Diagnostic Testing” December 2, 2020 CDC link

I am concerned about reports from the UK and USA about the new coronavirus mutation. Thankfully, the mutant virus strain is not more lethal, but it may be much more highly infectious, perhaps up to 50-70% more. There are no reports of the strain in Uzbekistan but I would guess genome typing is rare or do not exist here. With more people being infected, more people will die. “The Mutated Virus is a Ticking Time Bomb: There is much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 variant—but everything we know so far suggests a huge danger” by Zeynep Tufekci in The Atlantic discusses the new variant the rollout of vaccines. We will be monitoring the rate of infection closely to see how it impacts our school community.

My Latest REflections on COVID – Exams and Emotions

AAIE Featured this Graphic in their Latest COVID Briefing

The Association for the Advancement of International Education in their latest COVID Briefing featured an article in The Economist titled, “The Pandemic has Prompted Questions About High-Stakes Exams: But other ways of assessing students creates new problems”. The article gives an overview on how the closure of schools last spring, wreaked havoc on summative assessments (final exams) all over the world. The annual International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme exams taken each May were cancelled for TIS students. Instead, the students received final grades based on pieces of work submitted through the 2-year programme (IA – internal assessments) and teacher predicted grades. Controversially, the IB also used historical averages from TIS and subject areas to determine final grades. This sparked outrage and the IB raised everyone’s marks instead of fighting the battle.

School systems all of over the world were affected by school closures. The disruption has education experts re-thinking the value of exams and what alternatives are out there. France for example is moving to 40% school work and 60% final exam or many American universities are waiving ACT and SAT (university admissions tests) scores as part of the admission process. The global trend is to put less emphasis on the final exams, but this puts pressure on teachers and last year’s results in England, show evidence of grade inflation. I don’t think the IB this May will cancel exams to avoid the rukus from families. They have shortened exams in some subject areas as a nod to reduced on-campus learning.

I personally think final exams are better than any alternative assessments of students. They motivate students to learn ideas, skills and content. It is an objective measure. I do see the problems of poor schools, rich parents paying for test preparation courses or some students not doing well under pressure. However, I feel it is better than anything else education has come up with yet.

AAIE also shared a Washington Post article and podcast “Remote School is Leaving Children Sad and Angry” describing the emotional toll Virtual Learning takes on some students. TIS has been fortunate to be able to re-open the campus and we just completed our seventh week of learning in person. We hope to continue. I would add that not only is there an emotional toll on students, but also a physical one. Students are less active at home than they are at school. I saw the physical deterioration of my three teenage children during our 88 days of online learning.

Finally, they recommend the book for parents, The Distance Learning Playbook for Parents K-12 by the Cultures of Dignity group.

LIberating Structures to Connect Community Members

Earlier this week I led the faculty through a workshop using Liberating Structures. The goal was to create connections between faculty by having them practice listening and giving advice to each other in small groups. The pandemic has made everyone a bit anxious and stressed and rifts may be starting to develop within the faculty and staff. The menu of Liberating Structures are excellent tools for getting people to talk to one another in a productive manner. I especially loved the Troika Consulting, in which two colleagues act as consultants for another colleague (client). An excellent side benefit is teachers can use the Liberating Structures techniques with students and Zoom enhances the experiences. I would like to thank the Association for the Advancement of International Education for introducing our leadership team to this useful resource!

How far Should we Be away from Each Other? My Latest Thinking on the Pandemic and Schools

WHO Tashkent Office Situation Report – August 31, 2020

Our leadership team continues to closely monitor the pandemic here in Uzbekistan. Above is the periodic situation report from our friends over at the UN-WHO office here in Tashkent. According to the official statistics, you can see that the number of cases is falling, with a total of 368 cases, 174 in Tashkent city and another 94 in the Tashkent region. There are almost 2400 people being treated in hospitals with 387 in serious condition. The Minister of Health is deploying sanitary experts to help schools open on September 14, and is quoted, “We have no right to turn educational institutions with more than 480,000 teachers and over 6.2 million students into a hotbed of the epidemic”.

AAIE pointed out an excellent medical research website called BMJ. I read with interest the studies of physical distancing. We debated about spacing in classrooms and settled on 1.5 meters distance between desks. There is limited research in the area, with one study showing that infection rates increase by 10.2% (12.8% from 2.6%) with at least a 1 meter distance between subjects. Other studies show that singing, panting from exercise and talking loudly can propel particles 7 to 8 meters. Much also depends on air circulation in a space. One Japanese study showed infections occur 18.7 times more indoors than outdoors. There are few instances of outbreaks on planes, the guess being people are not talking loudly. The article summarizing the research in this area featured the chart below. For schools, the second category “wearing face coverings, contact for prolonged time” is most of what we are working with. As I am seeing more and more, ventilation is key and will allow us to do more.

Covid Mental Health

I listened to Dr. Laura Murray, a psychologist at John Hopkins University discuss mental health issues caused by the pandemic (Covid Mental Health Q & A podcast). My big takeaway was the idea of humans processing the risk of contracting Covid-19 has moved from the acute stage (hurricane) to a chronic stage (car accidents). The mind perceives chronic risk differently that acute risk and we need to be aware of this. Most people when they get into a car do not think, X number of people die or are injured in vehicle accidents every year. For example, my family no longer wipes down all groceries before bringing them into the house. Other takeaways are as follows:

  • Use self-disclosure to ease students into talking about their feelings, or perhaps instead of using the word feelings, use “thoughts” instead.
  • Students are only being observed/interacting with their parents instead of a variety of adults like teachers and coaches.
  • Recent CDC surveys are showing a higher rates of mental health issues during the pandemic and this is natural in these uncertain and stressful times.

Talking Education On Kun.UZ News

I would like to thank Alisher Ruziohunov a reporter for Kunuznews for giving me the opportunity to talk about education in the Uzbekistan media. It is nice not to focus dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and discuss best practices in education. Here is the transcript from the interview in Uzbek. (