Illustration by Scott Brundage
Illustration by Scott Brundage

Act today to prevent a coronavirus explosion

You would think that no one had ever seen a zombie movie.

Hollywood zombies have become the stuff of jokes in recent years. A played overused metaphor—drifting so far from its original meaning that it has become meaningless. An immediately recognizable trope used by lesser storytellers in place of the better and more timely ideas that elude them.

Yet there is one thing zombies remain good for: explaining how viruses spread societywide during a global pandemic. Not all zombies are created by viruses in the increasingly puerile TV shows and films dedicated to them. But all zombies spread their contagion by close person-to-person contact of some sort.

And it only takes one zombie to start a huge outbreak. That lone infected person spreads zombieism to a few people who become zombies and spread it to a few more each. And a few become a multitude. And a multitude becomes an epidemic. And the epidemic spreads globally at great speed and becomes a pandemic that engulfs the planet.

Sounds familiar, yes?

Which is why I cannot understand why any sane educational or political leader—or parent, least of all—could possibly think it would be a good idea to send students back to school in person.

Yet to one degree or another—city by city, state by state—that is what’s happening in the US.

And that is what Gov. Charlie Baker is allowing to happen here in Massachusetts. Advised more by conservative business leaders than anyone who has anything to say about public health.

In the face of a pandemic—sparked by a coronavirus, SARS-COV-2, to which no one on Earth had immunity when it jumped from animals to humans last year—that continues to rage across the US and the world, rising and falling but not yet disappearing, our state political leaders have proved little better than the conspiracy-mongering sociopath who will still occupy the White House for at least the next few months in terms of doing what is necessary to keep the offending pathogen fully at bay until a vaccine is developed.

The Baker administration has continued to move forward with ill-conceived plans to “reopen” the Commonwealth that have sent Mass infection and death rates moving upward again when they were on the verge of being pushed back toward zero in early June. After weeks of relatively strict social distancing from Provincetown to Pittsfield. That response remained too little too late, and our casualty figures—among the worst in the world per capita—throw that fact into bold relief. But we did manage to get a handle on the crisis for a time.

Then summer hit, and state leaders allowed businesses and beaches to start opening up. And inevitably people started running amok in large numbers. In public places like parks, restaurants, and, worse still, in private parties. Where friends, family, and random acquaintances stopped wearing masks and keeping several feet away from each other. Eating and drinking and making merry with zero regard for the warnings that continue to pour forth from epidemiologists and other medical experts day after day after day. Telling people to keep social distancing and, most especially, keep wearing masks—still the only way to guarantee that the coronavirus isn’t spread person to person as easily as scientists now know it does.

Because, as a recent article in Nature made clear, the virus is airborne. All the stuff we continue to hear about handwashing is important, but only deals with the secondary vector of transmission. People touching surfaces that may have live virus on them and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. The main way the virus spreads is from particles that come out of people’s mouths when they breathe, talk, shout, or sing. Particularly in closed spaces. Like stores and gyms and, yes, inside people’s homes. Where parties that start outdoors—which is bad enough—often move after a time.

And now K-12 and college students at far too many educational institutions are to be allowed to return to their very indoor and very enclosed classrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and theaters. Which could not possibly be more dangerous to our state’s ability to emerge intact from this great crisis.

Children and young adults being, of course, fully human. And fully able to contract and spread coronavirus to others. Like their teachers, school staff, parents, siblings, relatives, and friends. Whether or not the vast vast majority of them will not risk severe illness and even death themselves. Though some of them will get severely ill. And some will definitely die. When they would not otherwise have died.

And those older friends and family members will get sick and die in higher numbers. As will the other people they encounter inside and outside of school and home. The bus drivers and convenience store workers and waiters. And all of this will be exacerbated by the arrival of college students from all over the world. Many of whom will get the virus and pass it on to their friends, family, and acquaintances. Returning it to other parts of the world that may also have been doing better before this monumentally stupid move to reopen schools was allowed to be made in polity after polity around America. With zero guidance from the Trump administration.

Kudos to local leaders like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone who are doing the right thing and stopping or delaying the opening of K-12 schools in their cities long enough to see what happens with openings in other cities and states.

Data we’re already getting. As school after college after university that started opening earlier this month have sparked fresh and nearly immediate breakouts of virus infections in large numbers. Because, like movie zombies, young people are wild and uncontrollable and are going to do what they want to do. Having huge parties the moment they have the opportunity, and accelerating the process of virus transmission even faster than would otherwise occur.

And, I know, I know… working parents want the kids out of their homes for part of every week. Because many parents are working from home and being directly responsible for educating children on top of raising them has proved to be a tremendous burden.

But, to be blunt, it is incredibly irresponsible to support reopening schools for in-person education until the pandemic is over. It is too risky for school staff. It is too risky for society. And it is far too risky for parents themselves.

Since, like zombies, every student is the sum of every person they come into close contact with when it comes to their viral load. And we’ve already seen too many tragic deaths of parents of young children because of such carelessness and thoughtlessness on too many people’s parts.

Including politicians like Gov. Charlie Baker.

As such, I think it’s incumbent upon every Massachusetts resident to stand with a growing number of teachers’ unions, medical experts, and parents’ organizations to pressure local and state government officials to stop the opening of K-12 schools for in-person education statewide. And do the same at Bay State colleges and universities, too. Until the pandemic is well and truly over. 

Everyone also needs to enjoin Mass politicians serving at all levels of government to fight for federal money to make sure that all employees of all educational institutions continue to get their salaries. And that all students have equal access to the broadband internet connections and laptops they need to successfully participate in online learning initiatives by their schools. And that all parents—whether employed or unemployed—get the basic income, comprehensive healthcare, and guaranteed housing they need from the federal government. Until we have rebuilt our local, state, and national economies and infrastructure… and, ideally from my perspective, going forward from now on.

Failure to take these needed steps will result in the pandemic spinning further out of control than it already is in Massachusetts and beyond. And hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. Of people that we can keep alive. By doing the right thing. Now.

Think it over. Then act. Before it’s too late.

Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s Pandemic Democracy Project. Contact for more information. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2020 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.