In the News
Reopening of Elementary and Secondary Schools
Don’t Follow the Herd
– Enver Villamizar –
In provinces like Alberta and Ontario as well as others governments have reopened schools following a temporary period of online learning only for most students after the holiday break due to the surge in cases of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Along with the reopening of schools has come the edict that testing using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, said to be the most accurate, should only be for the most vulnerable or those who live in high-risk settings. While rapid antigen tests are not widely available generally, or in educational institutions in particular, it is said that these should be used when a person is symptomatic, to confirm a case of COVID.
Medical Health Officers now assert that because Omicron is spreading so rapidly and so broadly there is no use in mass screening or mass testing, as if to say it is a fait accompli that everyone is going to get infected. Without confirmatory testing and a system to keep track of positive cases in schools, for example, it is much more difficult to prevent the spread in a particular class or cohort since no one really knows, when people are absent, if it’s because they have COVID or for another reason. It is common now for students to indicate that they are going to do online school, and when they attend a virtual class they are marked present. Whether or not their decision to go online is based on either themselves or a family member having contracted COVID is not really ascertained. As a result, any measures to try and alert close contacts who might have been exposed to those who have tested positive for COVID have been abandoned. This severely limits the ability to protect oneself, one’s peers and family members, and to take preventive measures.
It appears as if governments have decided that they are going for herd immunity and the sooner they infect everyone, the cheaper it will be. It is a very irresponsible gamble, given it is a fact that the virus will continue to mutate as it spreads and the appearance of more severe and lethal strains is possible. Similar to the way vaccines were presented as the panacea so as to get everyone to give up their own initiatives and demands for proper working conditions in places like schools and hospitals, so too the Omicron variant is being presented as a panacea that will produce herd immunity to justify abandoning even basic public health measures which were followed previously. One has to ask: why has public health been reduced to gambling on an outcome that those who make the decisions may want, but that may not pan out?
As human beings we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom by our ability to plan, predict and prepare. There is still much that is being discovered about this virus. Gambling based on wishful thinking is not a modern basis for public health policy and decision making. There is no evidence that Omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame, as World Health Organization Director-General Tedros recently stated, and conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge. The hope that the “emergency phase” can be ended in 2022 is dependent not on wishful thinking but stepping up public health measures including those teachers, other education workers and parents are demanding be implemented in the schools.
Working people across the country cannot tie their thinking to the herd of the big monopolies and those who speak for them in government who see human beings as part of a cost/benefit equation, in which their lives are gambled with. Workers should step up their individual and collective actions to protect themselves, their peers and their communities in whatever ways they can with an eye to opposing attempts to demobilize the people. Those gambling with their lives must not be permitted to call the shots.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 27, 2022)