One thing that doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention in all the discussions about what to do about school in the fall (primary/secondary and higher ed) is that the preliminary development work on various vaccines seems to be going well. COVID-19 is apparently turning out to be a good candidate for developing an effective vaccine, because it mutates relatively slowly, thus providing less of a moving target for researchers than many other viruses.
Right now, it looks like the odds of having some sort of at least somewhat effective vaccine by the end of the year are looking pretty good, as are the odds of developing even better vaccines over the course of 2021. In addition, various therapies for people who have contracted COVID-19 are also advancing quickly.
It’s a remarkable international research effort, in an age of almost instantaneous information sharing, which has helped fuel rapid technological advances in vaccine and therapeutic drug development.
Given all this, the current failure of the US federal and many state governments to develop and deploy a containment strategy is all the more tragic. It is quite possible, and even likely, that the medical situation is going to be far better as early as this fall. Right now, the emphasis should be on hanging on until it is better, not on learning to live with a virus that contemporary medical science could well partially or wholly defeat in the very foreseeable future.
My view is that plans to fully open colleges and universities this fall make no sense at all, given ongoing developments. Is one semester of remote learning, with all its many admitted disadvantages, worth enduring if a medical solution to the pandemic is almost visibly on the horizon? To me, that question answers itself.
The situation with primary and secondary schools is more complicated, because these schools play a very different and much more comprehensive role in the nation’s daily life than higher ed. But even there, a few months more of patience could well reap enormous benefits very soon.
The current pessimism about slowing down a first wave that never declined that much — and is now cresting to even greater heights — in what has become a third world country with nukes is very understandable. But luckily, the USA isn’t going at this alone — the whole world is fighting COVID-19, and there’s every reason to think it will win the battle in the not too distant future.
Remembering that can help us get from here to there with much less damage than we in this country are on the verge of incurring.