Coronavirus Chronicles — The Many Factors in School Reopening

This is not the place for tracing the history of all the fallacious assumptions about COVID-19, but there certainly seem to be a lot of them. People used to think that its contagious droplets would not travel very far, or linger in the air for very long. Now, it appears that the droplets are more tiny than we can imagine, can travel farther than anyone had supposed, and hang around for a discouragingly long time.

At first, people believed, against all reason, that children possessed something close to immunity to the novel coronavirus. Then the evidence started to come in. Kids get it too, sometimes in sudden and dramatic form. Sometimes it appears mild, with a cruelly false recovery followed by “long haul” effects. There is a dawning awareness that when it comes to children’s safety, complacency is not our friend. The bottom line here is, whatever kids get, obese kids get it worse.

Okay! We’re concerned!

So, what do we do? For starters, suggests journalist Derek Thompson, we might think twice before being impressed by the words “deep cleaning” in relation to buildings and transport systems, which would include schools and buses.

In “Hygiene Theater is a Huge Waste of Time,” for The Atlantic, he explains. First, fomite transmission, or catching the virus from contact with surfaces, is not that big of a deal. While deep-cleaning the subways every night sounds great, it does more harm to the citizens than good. The evidence for surface transmission is so paltry as to be almost absent. (But we’re talking about COVID-19 here. There are still plenty of other things to catch, and people should still wash their hands thoroughly and often, just on general principles.)

Hospitals need regular deep-cleaning; in schools it probably does not help in this particular case, and is very likely to pull resources and energy away from other precautions that might make more sense. Like over-reliance on taking people’s temperatures, obsessive cleaning is perceived by some to be less of a preventative measure and more of an empty ritual.

The author sought information from microbiology professor Emanuel Goldman of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who takes into account not only financial reality but the “prevention fatigue” factor that enervates people:

They’re exhausted by all the information we’re throwing at them. We have to communicate priorities clearly; otherwise, they’ll be overloaded.

At a time when returning to school will require herculean efforts from teachers and extraordinary ingenuity from administrators to keep kids safely distanced, setting aside entire days to clean surfaces would be a pitiful waste of time and scarce local tax revenue.

My point is not to relax, but rather to focus on what matters and what works. Masks, social distancing, and moving activities outdoors. That’s it. That’s how we protect ourselves. That’s how we beat this thing.

Lest we forget, schools have more than one item on their agenda. In many places, school is where kids get not only high-standard nutrition, but any nutrition at all.

Economically comfortable Americans have no real grasp of what it means to be food-insecure, and others have no understanding of how much obesity is caused by kids filling up on cheap and over-processed pretend-food. Frederick M. Hess wrote,

America’s schools are a primary source of food for millions of students in the free- and reduced-price lunch program. As the massive national database compiled by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nat Malkus shows, within two weeks of schools’ being closed, more than 80 percent of them were providing some type of meal service, and 30 percent were delivering meals to kids.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hygiene Theater Is a Huge Waste of Time,”, 07/27/20
Source: “COVID-19 Took Away Public Education. Will We Miss It?,”, 04/05/20
Image by Sam Sherratt/CC BY-SA 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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