Is It Realistic for Students to Return to the Building on January 18th?

Caine Blake, Sydney Ellis, Editor

I’m sure that many of us remember the first time we went virtual in 2020. What began as a two week switch to virtual learning, ended up being the entire end of the school year, plus the entirety of the next school year online. Cases are once again surging in the state of Maryland, given the past precedent, is it realistic for students to be out for “just another two weeks”?

To answer this question we need to examine the similarities and differences between the COVID-19 response in 2020, and the present response. How have the circumstances of this quarantine significantly changed, and how have we dealt with those circumstances? Well, for starters, in 2020 the vaccine was not yet developed, so the case-by-case hospitalization rate, as well as the rate of recovery for those afflicted, and the number of those who COVID-19 could easily spread to were much higher. According to “Our World In Data” an organization which interprets data from government sources, as of January 5th 2022, the state of Maryland has reached a rate of 80% ,Vaccination rate, with 70% of the state having received both the base and booster shot. This factor alone would greatly reduce the amount of time needed for COVID-19 to die down but, it’s not alone.

Unlike the outbreak in 2020, the spread of COVID-19 up to this point has made the way for entirely new variants of the virus to propagate and spread throughout the country. One such variant named “Omicron” has been identified by the CDC as a variant of interest, because of it’s incredible rate of infection for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. I think that this fact alone is troubling enough to put a stop to a return to the school building any time soon. According to the New York Times, the earliest recorded data of new cases in PG County states that as of March 30th, 2020 there was a 7-day average of 44 new cases in the county. This 7-day case rate stayed rather stable around 100 to 130 cases from the months of June 2020 to October 2020, peaking at a whopping 528 7-day average for new cases of COVID-19. These numbers are certainly nothing to scoff at. Although 500 people may seem like a small amount considering the population size of PG County being the upwards of 900 thousand, a total lockdown around the county can’t prevent some odd 500 cases from occuring. I can only imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t locked down.

Back to 2022 though, let’s examine the same time frame as 2020, and compare how many cases we have now. Well, following the surge from December in 2020, March 30th 2021 averaged slightly higher than 2020 with an average 7-day rate of 176 cases. From the months of June to July cases dropped to as much as a 7-day average of 9 cases, rising back to average levels of approximately 150 cases when school started in September. These values would not stay average for very long though, as the average 7-day case rate of COVID-19 jumped to a total of 4256 cases as of January 2nd, 2022, numerous weeks after closing down PG County schools, and returning home just before winter break. If a case rate of ~50 or ~130 was enough to keep us out all year, imagine how truly horrible a case rate that is 800% higher than the previous peak of ~500 could be. Not only did it almost universally take more time than just 2 weeks for previous peaks to level out, but as of yesterday we still have an estimated amount of 2159 cases on an average 7-day case rate, 400% higher than our peak last year. With this data in mind, I find it wholly unreasonable to expect students to return to in-person learning in just another 10 days, especially since many of our own students contributed to the high case count in PG County. Even if virtual school is a drag, for right now at least, it is a necessity to keep us, and our communities safe.