Post #768: Have we stopped being stupid yet? Part two.

Posted on August 1, 2020

Have we stopped being stupid yet?  In the US, regarding COVID-19?

We can update Post #760 with a resounding, nope, not yet. 

Source:  This image is copyright Bill Griffith, and is used without permission.  But with the notation that “Are we having fun yet??” in fact originates with Bill Griffith/Zippy the Pinhead, but has been so frequently copied that many people incorrectly believe the source is apocryphal.

You’ve probably seen the recent news articles about the Georgia summer camp that had to close down back in June when more than 200 (out of 500) kids attending it tested positive for coronavirus.  After just a few days of operation.  But before you start feeling sorry for the victims of this unfortunate accident, read the CDC report on that.  It’s the release of the CDC report that is triggering the current news stories.

Consider that the camp directors did the following (per the article above).

  1.  No masks for the campers.
  2. Lots of vigorous indoor singing and cheering in the living quarters.
  3. No open windows.

This is being discussed as if it provides some sort of lesson for the re-opening of schools.  Other than the fact that kids can get coronavirus, I sure don’t see that.  I see this as a one-off act of astounding stupidity.

I am particularly dumbfounded by the decision to have vigorous indoor singing and cheering, with no open windows, and no masks.  Given what we have known for some months now, it would be hard to think of a more efficient way to spread coronavirus.

I mean, just pause for a second.  What I’m going to say next has all been documented in various posts here. I’m not even going to bother to cite the prior posts, but search “singing” to find them if you want.

Singing:  We had one superspreader event at a choir practice (Mount Vernon, Washington) early this spring.  We’ve had several similar singing-related events (in the US and elsewhere) since then.  We’ve had several countries, including Germany, ban singing in church.  We’ve had at least one state (California), ditto.  We’ve had many mainstream religious (including Catholics, Episcopal, and Lutheran) ban or sharply curtail singing in religious services.

We’ve had research on the books for years showing that singing generates large amounts of aerosol (airborne) particles.  And when you get right down to it, singing was known to be a hazard back when the major worry about airborne disease was tuberculosis.

In short, there was no shortage of information, back in June, to tell you that singing was a major risk.  Any sort of rudimentary Google search would have told you that.  And yet, this camp’s curriculum involved vigorous singing and cheering.

Indoors, with no open windows.  We’ve had considerable epidemiological evidence that outdoor settings are vastly safer than indoor settings.  Virtually every state re-opening has stressed doing your business outdoors, when possible.  For example, outdoor seating at restaurants was opened up well before indoor seating in the state re-opening plan.

That’s almost certainly due to aerosol (airborne) transmission of disease, even if the CDC can’t bring itself to say so.  Outdoor settings rapidly dilute any aerosol (airborne, under 5 micron) particles that float in the air.  Droplets, by contrast (over 5 microns) fall to ground in either indoor or outdoor settings.

Without masks.  Because?  Because the President won’t wear one?  Because Republican leaders have been foolishly stubborn on this issue?  Because going mask-less demonstrates your political fidelity?  Because they think they’re uncomfortable?  Beats me.  I’ve been wearing mine faithfully in enclosed public spaces for months now.  I really absolutely cannot get my mind around people who would balk at that.

Particularly for their children.  I mean, I figured that once it got down to an Abraham and Isaac scenario, Republicans would balk.  That seemed to be the case with school closures.  Even die-hard adherents of the President balked when it came to risking their children’s lives by ignoring the pandemic.  But, apparently, in this case, hundreds of parents figured it was A-OK to send their kids to a live-in summer camp without masks.

And, of course, as icing on the cake, even though the CDC mentions no open windows, and singing, it can’t use the a-word in its writeup.  (That’s aerosol or airborne transmission.)  The lack of open windows ONLY matters if aerosol transmission is a common route.  And the main reason that singing matters is that it produces vast amounts of aerosols (equivalent to coughing).  And yet, while the CDC can mention both the closed windows and the singing, use of the a-word is forbidden.

So the only real lesson I take away from this event is that schools should avoid being this incredibly butt-stupid.  I mean, yeah, indoor choir practice is cancelled indefinitely, for starters. And we can take it from there.

The CDC does us all a great disservice by refusing to acknowledge the presence of aerosol transmission of COVID-19.  If you read the CDC write up, it reads in a completely inconsistent fashion.  In a nutshell, it says:  “look at all the things these folks did right, except for these few items, and yet COVID-19 still spread, what a lesson that is for school reopening”.  That writeup is every bit as convoluted as it sounds.  A far simpler and more coherent summary would have said:  “this camp did not avoid a situation with high risk of aerosol transmission of COVID-19”.  (That situation being vigorous indoor singing, no open windows, no masks).

But if you can’t say the a-word (aerosol, airborne), you can’t say that.  And so the CDC writeup reads like the gibberish that it is.

Contrast your takeaways from the CDC report — if you have any — with the Japanese, who start their guidance with talk about ventilation.  They can do that, because they don’t have a bunch of hide-bound bureaucrats running the show, and the acknowledge the dangers of aerosol transmission of COVID-19.

If you want to read something helpful about school re-opening, read this Atlantic article about outdoor schooling.  Apparently this was done back in the 1918 flu epidemic.  And, to me at least, it makes great sense today.

Outdoor settings appear to be vastly safer than indoor settings for transmission of COVID-19.  Any in-person schooling should therefore take place outdoors, to the greatest extent possible.  But if you can’t admit that aerosol transmission is real, you can’t give that advice to the US public.  And that’s a pity.