Uncle Keith has been very busy

James O’Brien always says what makes sense.

Sometimes, though, I think the government is run by a bunch of bumbling Uncle Keiths who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t ever look at the evidence. For instance, here’s what the omicron variant is doing right now:

Deaths are down from last year, which is very good — we’ve got a better fortified population of people who have been vaccinated. This disease is still raging, though, which makes this decision by the St Paul school district incomprehensible to me.

Just as coronavirus cases are surging after winter break, St. Paul Public Schools is considering no longer identifying and excluding unvaccinated students who come into contact with an infected person at school.

Contact tracing is taxing school health personnel, and extended quarantines are hard on families, said Mary Langworthy, the district’s health and wellness director. She said many students have had to stay home for 10 days on three different occasions.

“Our parents are struggling to get to their jobs, they don’t have daycare options. … That’s a hardship for many of our families to endure,” she told the school board this week.

That is quite the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard from someone who’s supposed to be sensible and reasonable. We’re seeing many students being exposed to COVID, so our solution is…to close our eyes and stop testing, so we don’t see them anymore.

I know what a hardship it is to have your rigidly scheduled work life disrupted by natural causes, we used to have kids in our home. Somehow, though, the American solution is to pretend the problems of health and illness don’t exist, because work must carry on as if no pandemic existed. We can’t possibly decide that work must compromise and develop a greater flexibility to accommodate the needs of the people in this time of stress. Oh no, you have sick children at home? But how will these widgets get made? How will luncheon be served to those wealthy matrons? How will these boxes of Amazon goods get next-day delivery, and how will Jeff Bezos be able to afford a new rocket? Your priorities are maladjusted and out of alignment with American values! There are bosses and landlords whose pockets must be filled!

While we don’t have kids at home anymore, if my wife got sick, my number one priority would be helping her, and my job would have to work around that fact. If I got sick, my next goal would be to not drag my sniveling, virus-infected respiratory system back to the classroom to share my viral load with the students. I’m weird that way.

Also, public schools are not a baby-sitting service, even if some school officials think that’s their most important role.


  1. JoeBuddha says

    Yeah, unfortunately the proper response to a crisis has become closing your eyes, plugging your ears, and yelling, “I can’t hear you!” for far too many folx “in charge”.

  2. IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot says

    There’s a point where excluding asymptomatic individuals due to contact stops making sense.

    Where I live 5-10% of school staff tested positive for COVID when it came time to come back to school. Given that they were using the antigen tests which only have a 30% detection rate for Omicron in asymptomatic individuals, there are likely a whole lot more asymptomatic positives that are still teaching at school.
    When you combine that with all close contact reporting outside of school being voluntary, there’s not much gain in excluding asymptomatic individuals beyond the CDC’s new 5 day guidelines (so long as children return with a well fitting mask).

    In this situation we would need a full lock down to stop COVID, and, short of declaring martial law, the government couldn’t do that if they tried.

  3. raven says

    Just as coronavirus cases are surging after winter break, St. Paul Public Schools is considering no longer identifying and excluding unvaccinated students who come into contact with an infected person at school….

    The problem here is obvious and we knew it a few weeks after the Covid-19 virus was identified.

    While children tend to have a mild case of Covid-19 virus, they also tend to spread it to other family members and people.
    The older family members tend not to have mild cases of Covid-19 virus and tend to you know, sometimes just flat out die.
    There are huge numbers of cases where children have quite literally killed their parents and made themselves orphans. You can’t blame the children for this though, they are being directed and controlled by all the adults around them. You can blame those adults for a lot of this.

    The mistake being made here is also obvious.
    The mistake is because we can’t do everything, we should do nothing.
    No, you aren’t going to catch all infected children. You will catch many of them though.

    The other mistake is again obvious.
    In this case, death is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
    This pandemic won’t last forever. And our treatments for it will get better and better over time, like they did for HIV.
    Your assignment is to survive the first few years, so you can better survive the next few decades.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    Ironic considering how much the Right hates public education and freaks out at the prospect of government doing anything for the benefit for children.

  5. nomaduk says

    ‘[…] Vermont Governor Phil Scott told reporters that [Biden’s top pandemic policy advisor, Jeffrey Zients, a wealthy campaign donor with a background in private equity and management consulting, not public health] dissuaded him from issuing a statewide mask mandate, saying they were unnecessary. Further support for this account comes from Marcus Plescia, who leads the professional association for state health department directors. He told NPR reporters on December 17, 2021 that the White House was not encouraging states to adopt COVID mitigation policies like mask mandates.’


  6. acroyear says

    Lots of school systems are having trouble getting substitute teachers in the current situation. My complaint: if they paid more for a sub watching a room of 30 kids than a teenager makes in an evening just watching one kid, then maybe you’d have more apply for the job.

  7. hemidactylus says

    There could be pandemic fatigue but also a sense of the inevitable or fatalism with this wave. Maybe the reporting that should be taken with a grain of salt of mildness for Omicron has led to unwarranted complacency. This wave seems to have brought logistic feasibility (and effectiveness) of previous measures to the fore. I have only skimmed headlines for some of it, but staffing in essential sectors is impossible if people are out 10 days.

    I’m off for a week on vacay. Wish it was 2 weeks. I ain’t goin’ outside my house except maybe for beer. Risk-benefit. Hopefully Omicron crashes as fast as it’s peaking, but if so…when? If it is milder and shortened isolation times hold up, would we mostly be out of this in a month to reflect back on the repercussions? And will herd immunity be on the horizon? Or Godzilla waiting in the wings to finish us off?

    Here’s a fairly recent TWiV with Daniel Griifin who punctures the mildness bubble a little and discusses the CDC changes:

    And from a nerdy perspective Larry Moran linked this podcast of a relevant interview with immunologist Akiko Iwasaka

    They talk a bit on mucosal immunity and some prime and pull vaccination strategy.

    She has a fascinating presentation here on SARS-CoV-2 related research:

  8. raven says

    Deaths are down from last year, which is very good — we’ve got a better fortified population of people who have been vaccinated.

    It is too early to say that.
    Deaths lag reported cases by 2 weeks to a month. They lag reported hospitalizations as well.

    I’m sure deaths will be rising soon.
    We don’t have too good an idea of just how high they will rise though.

  9. hemidactylus says

    @8 raven
    I’ve started a tally for US deaths copied and pasted from Coyne’s Hili dialogue on WEIT (grumble, snort). I did a fast copy and paste, so there could be errors:

    1-10 1,559
    1-9 1,524
    1-8 1,499
    1-7 1,404
    1-6 1,329
    1-5 1,323
    1-4 1,276
    1-3 1,254
    1-2 1,240
    1-1 1,242

  10. kome says

    Meanwhile, in China, they’ve decided to test an entire city of 14 million people in response to “just” 20 confirmed cases of omicron infection because they kinda wanna keep that shit under control.
    By contrast, we have health officials in the US coming out and justifying a reduction in health protective behavior mandates by saying it’s encouraging that most of the deaths from the omicron are people with multiple comorbidities, implying that the lives of the already sick and impaired are somehow worth less.

  11. rorschach says

    PZM: “Also, public schools are not a baby-sitting service”

    But yes, that is exactly what they are used for. One of the most baffling developments of this pandemic for me is this “children suffer when not taught in person in large classrooms while not wearing masks and without proper air filtering” mantra. It’s happening worldwide, Australia, US, Germany, UK. Essentially it is political parties in power trying to save their donor’s dollars by forcing mum and dad to go to work.
    Schools reopened here today, we expect the complete collapse of the health system in 2-3 weeks.

    I have another new favourite pandemic fuckup btw, and that’s to force infectious HCWs back to work if they are asymptomatic, I noticed one bad hospital outbreak in Rhode Island so far, more will follow. Complete madness.

  12. says

    Here in Québec, the business-oriented conservative government also seems to regard schools as babysitters, and has been slow to close them at various points in the pandemic (though currently they are closed), and has done little to nothing about ventilation, HEPA filtration, and other onsite measures, and also not much contact tracing. Back in December they first just mandated restaurants to operate at 50% capacity (with the same vaccine passports that have been in effect since August) rather than close them (ignoring the fact that even we vaccinated people can catch and transmit Omicron), before panicking the day before New Year’s Eve and ordering all dining rooms closed and imposing our second winter curfew. They drag their feet on effective measures for fear of hurting the economy, not realizing that you can’t have much of an economy when everyone’s getting sick.

    It just illustrates the idiocy of saying you should run a government like a business. A government has responsibilities to the public that fall substantially outside the typical concerns of business.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    NB: Found at Medical Xpress
    “Antibody that inhibits broad range of sarbecoviruses found ”
    This category happens to include covid. The antibody has been designated S2K146 .
    So science is about to win yet another victory.

  14. numerobis says

    kaimatthews: frankly I think it’s good that the government has prioritized schooling over restaurants and bars, unlike many governments. I too wish they were quicker and harsher with COVID — and that the idiot minister of education would stop fucking around with CO2 monitors that can’t even theoretically help and just buy some air filters — but I don’t fault them on the goal of keeping schools open.

  15. wzrd1 says

    I saw a wonderful chart of cases/hospitalizations/deaths that a physician posted.
    Immediately, some asshole responded that hospitalizations and deaths were low, so everything’s OK.
    I replied, “First people get sick, then after a bit hospital, a bit later, dead, here in the real world”.
    Our SIL spent yesterday in the ED. She had finally got her first vaccine dose and was due for the second when she became ill enough to go to the hospital. Positive for COVID, lousy with comorbidities (as my wife and I are as well).
    We then learned that her son in law attended Christmas family festivities, with the extended family (including our grandkids and daughters, who now are mildly ill and thankfully, vaccinated and he never bothered letting anyone know that he had COVID at the time. I’m tempted to trek the 120 or so miles to visit him and introduce him to a section of lead pipe.
    No, I do keep a chunk of lead pipe I had to replace with PVC years ago, but it’s actually to show kids what zany things my ancestors used for household plumbing.
    Showing them how much we advanced in a mere few generations is indeed a lead pipe cinch. ;)

  16. unclefrogy says


    blockquote>It just illustrates the idiocy of saying you should run a government like a business. A government has responsibilities to the public that fall substantially outside the typical concerns of business.



    the biggest understatement of the year

    there does seem to be some confusion in many politicians and administration managers politicians just which business they are running.
    The way the they are reacting indicates that it is the business out side of government is what they are focused on

  17. dean56 says

    Our semester starts this week (my in-seat classes tomorrow). This morning’s “welcome back” email included the fact that over the weekend we had the most positive cases detected in over a year — beating the (then) record number from last week Wednesday. I have 6 emails from foreign students trying to return to campus who aren’t going to be able to be here this week because of various testing snafus and waits. I expect that number to increase.

    I’ve already been asked “How often will you be on campus?”
    My standard answer is: As little as I need to be: get there, teach, leave. Everything else is virtual, which is how everything should be to start this semester. I’m 1.5 years from retirement, so I can say “Behold my fields where I tend my fucks to give, and see that they are barren.”
    Personal rant done.
    K-12 schools here in West MI (Kalamazoo/Portage) are seeing big numbers too. At the same time lawns are filled with “No masks” signs. We are so screwed.

  18. whywhywhy says

    Why don’t schools require all kids be vaccinated (except where contra-indicated medically)? Other vaccines are required for other illnesses.

    Also, it isn’t just deaths from COVID. The fact that hospitals around me are at full capacity means that there will be an increase in deaths due to other causes. For example: a co-worker’s father just died of a pulmonary embolism as a direct result of heart surgery being delayed months because there was not a bed available in the ICU (or nursing staff available). His death will not be listed as a COVID death but it is a direct result of the hospitals being overrun by COVID patients.

  19. raven says

    Also, it isn’t just deaths from COVID. The fact that hospitals around me are at full capacity means that there will be an increase in deaths due to other causes.

    This is happening everywhere and often.

    In some places, ER waits are running 10 to 20 hours and there are no standard hospital beds available. It is already happening that people are dying in the ER waiting room.

    A lot of cardiac rehab, pulmonary rehab, and Physical Therapy programs are also on pause or canceled. These can make a huge difference in patient quality of life and recovery and will add to the already high death rates of this pandemic.

  20. malleefowl says

    I wonder whether these schools have ever wondered about long term effects on children of getting Covid19. In the past few days the CDC have come out with a review of two large scale studies of children which show that they are at greatly increased risk of getting diabetes after Covid19 compared to uninfected controls who suffered from other pulmonary viral infections.

  21. Akira MacKenzie says

    Conservatives before the pandemic: “Public schools are liberal, commie, Satanic, indoctrination mills turning our children into godless, America-hating, queer-mo-sexuals! Take your kids out of there and homeschool them!”

    Conservatives during the pandemic: “WHY AREN’T THE SCHOOLS OPEN?!?!?! OPEN THE SCHOOLS YOU LIBERAL, COMMIE, SATANISTS!!!!”

  22. grandolddeity says

    @6 – I work for a school district maintenance facility. Every county school district employee above line staff up to and including the superintendent has been deputized to serve as substitute teachers. I had to do 5 hours of online training. Now HR can send me to sub at the drop of a hat.

  23. seachange says

    Schools ARE a baby sitting service.

    Here in California, only half of the students graduate high school. Of those, only half can pass an exit test with 7th grade math and 9th grade english upon HS graduation. Political pressure was brought to bear, and now we no longer do the exit exam.

    Rick teaches, my sister teaches, and my nieces teach. Rick was doing e-teaching before the pandemic. You may believe that students do equally well with distance learning all you like. You’d be wrong. The pedagogy of education is pretty screwed up. But in this case, they’re not wrong.

    You would not believe the pressure from administration and from parents to keep students who are going out of their way to not-learn and who are also going out of their way to force an end to the learning process for all the other students: to be passed, to be kept in school. No matter what.

    Because, it’s baby sitting.