Kids Are Not Immune To Covid-19

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Emily Oster has a new article out in The Atlantic where she says it’s safe to let children resume a more normal social life this summer. She acknowledges that there is not yet a covid vaccine for kids but she writes, “Although scientists don’t quite understand why, kids seem to be naturally protected. As a result, you can think of your son or daughter as an already vaccinated grandparent.”

She goes on to make some risk-benefit analyses about severity of disease in children but I stopped listening to her because I was too angry at her for trying to apply economic principles to the path of a novel virus.

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not a virologist. But neither is Emily Oster, so you can choose which not-expert you want to listen to after you read what I have to say.

Let’s start with a journey back to the time I caught human papiloma virus (HPV). Remember that? Hahahahahahah! No, you don’t and neither do I because HPV is a sneaky little fucker of a virus that sets up housekeeping in human bodies without notice. You probably have HPV right now and you don’t even know it.

Chances are excellent that eventually your immune system will evict HPV and you’ll never know it was there. Or, maybe your HPV will be like mine and cause pre-cancerous abnormalities on your cervix.

If that happens, you’ll need a procedure called a LEEP where a doctor removes a layer of your cervix. It may require general anesthesia, you may bleed vaginally afterward, and you’re considered high-risk for cervical cancer until you get a clean HPV test. If you ever get a clean HPV test. A LEEP doesn’t cure HPV. It just cleans your own cells that have started to mutate into something that wants to kill you.

Oh! It might also affect your ability to carry a pregnancy because having one less layer of cervix means you might not be able to keep a baby in your uterus for 40 weeks. I was on cervical rest for most of my second pregnancy thanks to my close encounter with HPV.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I have lost the plot because we were discussing covid-19 and covid-19 doesn’t cause cervical cancer.

Or does it?

We don’t know what covid-19 does over the long term because covid has been a pathogen that affects humans for approximately 16 months. There is no data on the long-term effects because there is no long term. But there is plenty of data to show that other viruses can behave in destructive ways for years after initial exposure.

Think about chicken pox. That’s a virus and, like covid-19, it’s not super harmful to kids when they first get it. But then it hangs out in the body for years and sometimes reappears as shingles. Shingles is painful, debilitating, and highly contagious. That’s one of the reasons why we started vaccinating kids for chicken pox; to prevent a more serious illness in later life.

Zika is a virus that doesn’t cause dramatic symptoms in the person who has it. However, if a pregnant person gets Zika, it can cause major fetal anomalies, including problems with brain development that lead to microcephaly. The baby is likely to have lifelong disabilities.

Polio is a virus that can cause paralysis and death in children. People who have survived polio are at risk of post-polio syndrome, a neurological disorder that emerges 30 or more years after the person has recovered from polio. It causes chronic fatigue and progressively worsening muscle weakness.

Covid-19 is a virus just like all the ones I just mentioned. We know that some people who contract covid-19 continue to have symptoms for months after exposure. No one is sure why that’s happening or what to do about it. Some covid-19 patients end up with irreparable organ damage. Others have circulatory problems that don’t resolve. Covid-19 is unpredictable. Disease longevity and severity vary widely and no one can predict who will get sicker or if they will get better. Nor do we know if covid-19 will stay in the body and re-emerge later in life.

Which brings us back to Emily Oster’s hypothesis that it’s fine to let kids risk covid-19 exposure because they probably won’t get too sick in the short term. She’s right about that but what about the long term? Will there be post-covid syndromes that wreak havoc on people years later?

And do you want to put your kids at risk of that happening to them?

I can’t tell you what to do but I’m not going to back down on covid-19 mitigation for my family. I expect there will be vaccine for kids by the end of this year. I can wait until then to resume normal life. That seems better than waiting decades to see what covid-19 might do to people I love.

Reopening Montgomery County Public Schools

This is a letter I sent to my Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools on 2/23/21. None of them have replied. None of my concerns have been addressed in public statements since then.

Dear Dr. Smith and Board of Education Members,

I am a parent of two MCPS students and I have been following the reopening plans quite closely. The more I learn about they way the central office has put together this plan, the more confused and upset I am. It appears that this entire scheme is a top-down dictate, devised without input from teachers, administrators, parents, or students.

Everything you have presented up to this point leads me to believe that you are returning kids to buildings just for the sake of having kids inside buildings. I understand the ostensible reasons for opening buildings but you haven’t spoken to any of those reasons. For example:

Mental Health: Many parents and school counselors have been worried about the mental health effects of the pandemic. However, I have yet to hear concrete plans for how the schools will manage this concern. If there is an effort in progress to identify and help students with significant mental health needs, I hope you will clarify that. If there isn’t a plan for this issue, then there needs to be one. Otherwise, MCPS risks failing on one of the top priorities for the return to school.

Social Isolation: There is no doubt that bringing students into the same space will provide an immediate remedy to the fundamental problem of social isolation. However, sitting masked, at a desk, 6 feet away from classmates, with constant 12:1 student to adult supervision is hardly an ideal environment for socializing. K-5 students will have recess periods to interact in a purely social way but that isn’t true for middle and high school students. What does MCPS plan to do to proactively address the social needs of kids? If you don’t have a clear guidance to schools for that, you need to develop it.

Childcare: Four days per week of full time in-person school for K-3 students does address childcare needs for those days. Is MCPS offering any support for before- and after-care or care for asynchronous instruction days? What about care for kids in grades 4 and 5 who will be on an A/B week schedule and still need care 50% of the time? What about childcare in the event that a student needs to quarantine and do virtual learning for some period of time? Will the school work with employers to aid adults in managing unexpected schedule changes? How is MCPS planning to assist families in piecing together the childcare they so desperately need? Or is the plan to cover only a portion of a child’s time and leave families to figure out the rest on their own?

Learning Loss: “Our kids are falling behind” is probably the most cited reason to bring them back to school. We all accept that virtual learning has drawbacks in terms of curriculum delivery and that typical in-person teaching corrects that problem. However, we are not returning to typical in-person teaching. Instead, we are phasing in a series of disruptions to instruction. Each new group of students returning to buildings changes the logistics of the building. Staff will have to adapt to the new circumstances with each phase. Any need for quarantine will create more disruptions to in-person instruction. All these disruptions have the potential to negatively affect curriculum delivery. How will you mitigate that enough to prevent further learning loss?

Of even more concern is the fact that the instructional modes are going to change for every student in the county. In order to accommodate classes that simulatenously take place in-person, down the hall in an overflow classroom, and virtually, teachers will have to adapt their instructional methods dramatically. There will be a significant period of adjustment for teachers and students to get comfortable with the new teaching styles. With no time to practice or troubleshoot, there are bound to be missteps. Lesson plans won’t work out. Technology won’t cooperate. Implementing a universal change to instruction doesn’t seem to address the issue to learning loss at all. Quite the opposite, actually.

On a personal note, these changes leave me feeling betrayed on behalf of my children. They have been among the students who were thriving with virtual learning. They want to continue with school as they have been doing it all year and I am in a position to agree to that. However, I expected they would continue to get the same – or better – quality of instruction that they have had all along.

While I believe their teachers and principals are committed to doing right by the 60% of MCPS students who are remaining remote, I have no such faith in the Board or the leadership in the central office.

I honestly don’t know why we are doing this at this point in the school year, expect as a means to facilitate state testing. You haven’t made plans to address the underlying reasons for returning to buildings. You don’t plan to help them manage socialization and mental health struggles. The childcare aspect is insufficient. And instruction may actually be worse in the spring thanks to the massive shift you are expecting of everyone involved.

I would like to support your ideas but so far, you haven’t given me a reason to do so. I hope you alleviate my concerns in the near future.

Rage Against The Broken Machine

We have reach the in-fighting stage of the pandemic, and I have to say, I’m not a fan.

People in my town have started lashing out at each other over school and business restrictions. The comments section of any news outlet is pretty gnarly. Lotsa name calling. I keep thinking they should refocus their anger on the real enemy: our inadequate social safety net and the kind of politicians that created the problem.

Instead, I keep seeing rage-filled criticism of covid mitigation policies – particularly about schools. In those screeds, people talk about the pandemic as of it’s been going on for years and it will never end.

I’ll hear statements like “Schools in X have been open since December but schools in Y are lagging behind with a March opening! How can the district deliberately hurt kids that way!”

Thats’s, like, 12 weeks difference. It’s not an eternity. It’s shorter than the 2021 Major League Hockey season.

I know it’s all frustrating. I know it’s hard to watch someone else get the thing you want. I know. But y’all. It hasn’t been that long.

The virus is 15 months old. Some of the science about opening school buildings is under 6 months old. That science is different than science that is 9 months old and also different from science that is 3 months old. There may be new science tomorrow.

This entire experience has been built on shifting sand. There is no security for anyone.

And THAT is the biggest problem.

The most egregious wrong of the covid era is the lack of support the government has given the people. There should have been childcare subsidies. There should have been increased access to mental health services. There should have been bail-outs for business owners and furloughed workers.

That’s what we should be really mad about: we have no safety nets for working families, business owners, or people in mental health crisis. That should be the target our collective rage.

We all have to live in our communities after the pandemic ends. Fighting about dates and phases won’t solve anything. Instead, let’s plan for making it better when this crisis ends.

Is It Really Learning Loss?

You can’t log in to the internet right now without some expert shouting about “learning loss” for K-12 students. Allegedly, every kid in America is “falling behind” and we need to get them into school pronto or they will never learn anything on time ever again. The schools are “failing our kids.”

Only no one mentions that “on time” is a social construct that is entirely malleable if only we had the will to make changes. All the arguments about opening schools could be settled if we, as a nation, agreed to revise our arbitrary annual learning goals.

Kids don’t have to learn things on a particular schedule. We made up the standards. It wasn’t handed down on stone tablets from on high, never to be revisited or revised. We could alter the whole educational timeline to accommodate the pandemic. We just….haven’t.

Seriously. The entire concern about kids losing a year of classes could be mitigated by collectively agreeing to teach them the stuff they should have learned this year, next year.

Their brains aren’t going anywhere. The information isn’t going anywhere. It can happen later.

But rather than planning for make-up classes when the pandemic ends, we told kids to suck it up and get to work. We took away all their learning tools and said “Learn the same amount of stuff anyway.” It’s unrealistic and unfair to them.

Now, I acknowledge that learning loss for certain groups is a real and present concern. Initial acquisition of literacy and numeracy are far easier at young ages. Kids who are trying to learn English as a second language need specific supports, as do students with special needs.

I believe those students should have had a special focus this year. They will truly lose the opportunity to learn if their needs aren’t addressed.

But the high school kids who are tying to cram in as many AP courses as possible before graduation could weather a delay. Those kids could have done some independent study projects with their teachers acting as advisors. Or they could have gone back and revisited material form prior years to deeper their understanding. We didn’t have to try and keep cramming a standard curriculum down their throats.

They can learn calculus next year. European history will still be available after the pandemic. Hell, we could offer them all an additional year of high school or a free year of community college to make up for the lost time. But no. We’re making everyone mask up and try to pretend education can proceed as normal.

It sucks and we suck for doing that to our kids.

The real problem in schools this year isn’t students or teachers. It’s the other adults (parents, politicians) who are demanding typical results in decidedly atypical circumstances.

In other words, it’s our fault and we’re the ones failing our kids with our unrealistic expectations.

AIDS and Acquittal: The GOP Has Always Been Like This

Picture of the AIDS quilt in front of the Washington Monument

In the 1980s, Republicans sat silent as AIDS wiped out a generation of LGBTQ+ men, some of them among the greatest artists of their time.

By the end of the decade, the art world tried to celebrate the lost souls by displaying their work. For example, the Corcoran Gallery of Art planned to host a retrospective of the works of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Some of his photos are quite explicit. Masterful, insightful, but explicit.

In response, Republican Senator Jesse Helms freaked the fuck out and tried to defund the entire National Endowment for the Arts, which had helped fund the exhibition.

That is who the GOP is. A group of people that won’t lift a finger as people they look down on die. Then they will rush to shit on anyone to tries to honor the dead

So, if I don’t seem terribly outraged by the acquittal vote today, it’s because I’ve known for 30 years that the GOP ain’t nothing but garbage.

Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health, shared under public license via Wikimedia Commons

Book Review: “The Night Hawks” by Elly Griffiths

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!

Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books are my favorite mystery series. I enjoy how characters are all engaging but their personal stories don’t overwhelm each individual mystery plot.

In this 13th installment of the series, fans find Ruth back in Norfolk, where she is now the head of her university department. This puts her on a collision course with DCI Nelson, of course. The two of them must work together to solve a series of unexplained deaths as well as confronting their long-time feelings for one another.

This time, they are tasked with exploring local myths, like a dog that is a harbinger of death and a farm with a tragic history, as well as a rising body count. Everyone has secrets and its a race to discover who is killing to keep them.

As always, the crime at the heart of the story was perfectly plotted and paced. Griffiths has a talent for giving readers the right clues at the right time so we feel like a part of the team solving the mystery. At the same time, she never gives away the ending too soon.

The ending of this books was satisfying from a crime-solving standpoint but Griffiths left readers with a major cliffhanger about Ruth and Nelson. I look forward to the next book in the series to see where that goes!



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Book Review: “White Ivy” by Susie Yang

White Ivy by Susie Yang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


SPOILERS AHEAD

“White Ivy” by Susie Yang should have been amazing. And it almost was.

It’s billed as a story about a troubled Chinese-born teen who struggles to fit into the WASPy Boston suburbs. She acts out, steals, and finally gets caught attending an illicit party at the home of the boy she has crush on. Her parents send off to China for the summer to stay with relatives. She returns to find her family has moved to a new city where she should be able to make a new start. But all Ivy ever wants is to return to Boston to start again at the moment when she was wrenched away from her middle school crush.

Lo and behold, that happens. She grows up and moved to Boston. Serendipitously, she reconnects with the crush, a now-successful entrepreneur named Gideon from an old money family. She also reconnects with a childhood friend named Roux. Also an immigrant, Roux has achieved enormous wealth through less legitimate means.

Ivy gets engaged to Gideon but cheats on him with Roux. Neither relationship is any good; Gideon is detached and unreachable, Roux is possessive and violent.

This story deals with a lot of themes that make for good books. Old money versus new money. Family of birth versus family of your choosing. Immigrants versus establishment Americans. And, of course, it touches on the fascinating stories of Chinese people who lived through the Maoist revolution and eventually escaped to America.

You know what this book absolutely did not need in it’s final chapters? A murder and a revelation that someone has been gay all along.

Look, I can tolerate a lot in the name of literature. I didn’t mind that Ivy was selfish and unlikable. Her complete lack of self-awareness was useful for moving the story along. She was an empty vessel. Her life was a quest for fulfillment but she didn’t know what would fill her up.

When she reached a crisis point where she needed to choose between Gideon and Roux, she should have had a reckoning about her own failings. Instead she pushed Roux off a cliff and killed him.

What? No. Murder is not a good way to tie up loose ends. It’s lazy writing and it took me out of any belief I had in the story. All I could think was that Yang created Roux for the express purpose of pushing him off a cliff later. Maybe that’s why he felt underdeveloped; he was never expected to survive the entire book.

If that wasn’t enough, Ivy gets to her wedding day only to realize that Gideon has been gay the whole time. She is his beard but she never knew. Rather than deal with that deep lie, she just…marries him.

Why? Why did Gideon need to be gay? Was that supposed to be a twist? It fell flat. I could easily accept Gideon as simply remote. I could believe Ivy was so attached to her middle-school dream of a life that she would marry a man who was more symbol than spouse. Making him gay and secretly in love with his best friend was just…pointless.

I’m not sure what the process was for the final quarter of this novel but if an editorial team was looking at it and hollering “Yes! This will keep readers guessing!” they misjudged. This reader wasn’t wowed by the final bombshells. I was just annoyed by them.




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Advocacy Still Matters

Photo by David Renken on Pexels.com

Hi! Good morning! How are ya?

It’s been 23.5 hours since the Biden/Harris administration took over. Slightly less since Schumer and the Democrats took control of the Senate.

That seems like the right amount of time to wait before emailing my Senators.

I’m stoked about the opportunity for sweeping reforms this year. Well, at least until I remember that Mitch McConnell still exists. That Horcrux of a Senator and his caucus are in a position to use parliamentary rules to prevent anything good from happening.

This morning, I used ResistBot to send my Senators a quick note encouraging them support filibuster reform. Here is the text. Feel free to use any part of it if you want to do the same.

I am asking you to reform the filibuster rules. It’s long past time that the majority got to be in charge of the legislative process instead of being hampered by minority obstruction.

The 117th Congress is a singular opportunity to undo the harm done by Trump; we cannot assume there will be continued Democratic Party control in Congress after 2022. This is the time to act decisively and pass laws that expand voting rights, election security, health care access, reproductive justice, fair wages, and other progressive priorities.

That will not be possible if Mitch McConnell and his caucus retain the right to deny cloture to any bill they don’t like.

The Republican Party is not good at policy-making or policy-implementation. I, like millions of other Americans, want them out of the power. I don’t want them exerting control through obstruction. If they want to work on passing bills, fine. But if they don’t, they need to get out of the way.

Everything I Want To Say To The MAGA Morons Cheering The Capitol Siege

Washington, D.C. (January 6, 2021) The Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tours the U.S. Capitol to survey damage from violent protests earlier in the day.

I’m still seeing people cheering for the assault on the Capitol last week and I’m really fucking angry. This kind of attitude is dangerous and if they had any capacity for shame left, they should be feeling it right now. 

If I had the opportunity to face off with this ammosexual morons rooting for a massacre, this is what I would say:

Let me tell you a few things that you should consider before you start clamoring for more armed assaults on the Capitol, m’kay?

Let’s set aside the national security issues raised by taking the entire legislative branch hostage. I hope you’ve read enough dystopian fiction to realize that machine-gunning Congress is the doomsday scenario. Nothing good happens after that. You won’t get King Trump ruling benevolently. You’ll probably get China taking over the Western Hemisphere instead. Chew on that when you have a moment. 

For now, let me give you some additional food for thought.

On an ordinary day, thousands of people pass through the Capitol complex. That includes everyone from the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate – the second and third people in line for the presidency – to groups of middler schoolers on 8th grade class trips to DC. It’s not a hotbed of leftist machinations. It’s an office building and historic landmark. 

Speaking of those class trips to DC, kiss that good-bye. You think your kids will be safe if DC is a perennial target of unfettered domestic terrorists? Think again. Terrorists would be happy to kill some school kids to make their point. That’s what terrorism is about. Your reckless disregard for their lives is appalling.

The measures needed to secure important sites in DC will also make them inaccessible to the public. I hope you enjoyed the Smithsonian last time you saw it because you may not get a chance to come back.

Tourists aren’t the only ones who will miss out on normal DC stuff. The area around the Capitol is largely residential. It’s a hub of small businesses, homes, schools, and daycares. You gonna cheer when someone blows up an elementary school to “own the libs”? Well? Are you? 

I’ll wait for the answer.

You’ll be waiting, too. For consumer goods. Union Station is mere blocks from the Capitol. It’s a central rail hub for the whole Eastern Seaboard. Further attacks on that section of DC will make it a security issue. I hope you like your Florida produce overripe because its journey will take more time if trains can’t run through DC. 

And finally, this is REALLY FUCKING PERSONAL TO ME. I lived eight blocks from the Capitol. My husband worked in the House of Representatives for a decade. I know dozens of people who have been on staff for Representatives and Senators. They are all smart, committed professionals who wanted nothing more than to do their part to make America better. You, apparently, don’t care if those people live or die.

How can you live with yourself? 

No. Really. How can you live with yourself? Because you fill me with disgust and I don’t want to live with you and you murderous dreams.

Trump, Terrorism, and Social Media

Photo by Tyler Merbler at Wikimedia Commons

It’s been five days since a mob took the United States Congress hostage in a violent act of insurrection. And Donald Trump is still president.

Elected Republicans have shown their fealty to the mob by refusing to condemn Trump. They would rather tolerate violence against their own selves than suffer a primary challenge, apparently.

How did we get to a place where so many people are so in thrall to one man?

I’ve been reading up on parasocial interactions and relationships to try and understand the hold he has over them. That’s the fancy psychological term for when a person feels like they’re in a relationship with a media figure. 

For example, I’m parasocially convinced that Chrissy Teigen and I are best friends because I love her tweets so much. That’s why I (and many others) felt real grief when she lost her pregnancy last year. We were taking on the emotions of someone who feels like a friend, despite the relationship being entirely one-sided. 

Parasocial relationships are why old ladies stand up in church to ask for prayers for soap opera characters. The consistent exposure to personalities and characters begins to seem like real interactions—the lines between reality and media blur. 

Social media creates even more intimacy because it breaks the fourth wall, so to speak. A tweet or a Facebook post feels like a direct appeal. You think the poster is talking to you specifically. If the person responds to comments, it builds the sense that the whole interaction is a real conversation and you are part of it.

I think Trump has fostered this type of relationship with his base. They have a parasocial attachment to him as a person. They feel that he is their friend, the leader of their social group. And like my sadness when Chrissy Teigen was sad, they feel what he feels. Trump uses the direct appeal of social media to convey his feelings and draw his supporters into them. The more they respond, the more he responds to their response. It’s a feedback loop of co-dependent rage. 

In a way, the Trump base’s anger is not really their anger; it’s HIS anger. They want to protect their friend from the forces he fears and hates. They are trying to avenge wrongs against Donald Trump, the individual, because he directly told them, via social media, to do so. Maybe he didn’t specify tactics, but he gave them the mission in direct and unambiguous terms. 

That is why the swift and total withdrawal of his social media access is important.

By cutting off his direct access to his base, the base loses that false intimacy they feel toward him. They lose the dopamine charge they get when he “talks” to them. Their exposure to him drops dramatically. He can no longer continue the conversation they have been having all these years.

Perversely, this is like quitting a lousy relationship cold turkey. In the break-up of an actual relationship, the first weeks are a detox period where you miss the person and question all your choices. But over time, habits of being with that person weaken and their influences over you weakens at the same time.

In an ideal world, this will be true for the people in parasocial thrall to Trump. After a few weeks of withdrawal, they may find their attachment to him has diminished. If that happens, they might be less likely to do his bidding. Unless a compelling surrogate appears to fill the hole left by Trump, the fervor may start to fade, at least among most of his base.

I expect that there will be significant unrest in the next few months. Most of it will be similar to the kind of events we saw last summer at the height of the BLM tensions. Those are the events that I think will sputter out without Trump’s direct reach to his supporters.

I also believe there will be radical cells intent on insurrection. I think we will see domestic terrorism continue for the remainder of Joe Biden’s presidency, if not longer. When the Trump team said they were releasing the Kraken, they weren’t lying. They just didn’t mention that the Kraken was a group of angry white paramilitary groups willing to kill for their cause.

What can any of us do now? I don’t know. I’m sorry I don’t have answers or even ideas right now.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Take care of yourself.