We have been doing a lot of research and consulting and have reached the conclusion that we must close the school building for gatherings until, at least, April 6th. This was a very difficult decision to make. I will explain our reasoning below. In the meantime, we are working on ways to stay connected online, perhaps All School Council meetings with Zoom. We’re checking out different platforms for interacting as a school. Also I am proposing a global “Big Room” where teens around the world can go to be with one another. Iku, Maya, and Moe will be available for phone consults and chats with students and parents once spring break is over.
The Coronavirus is a novel virus, that is to say, it is new to humans. Therefore we will have no immunity until we are exposed or get vaccinated (and there is no vaccine available yet.) Most people, especially young and healthy people, will be fine even if exposed. They may have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, as their bodies create their own immunity. The people who are more at risk for developing symptoms are older (over 65) or have weak immune systems or other health issues. Symptoms of this disease include fever, a dry cough, aches, and fatigue. For those who are severely affected this can lead to pneumonia with difficulty breathing, and, in the worst-case scenario, a syndrome of severe inflammation to the lungs called “Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome”.
Infection rates in a pandemic follow an exponential curve. For us, that means we will experience very little activity until suddenly lots of people are infected all at once. The pandemic is already here: Be clear that most likely the number of infected people already is much larger than the number of confirmed cases. Our hospitals and healthcare providers are gearing up to deal with this, but their capacity is limited especially here in NM. If our health system becomes overwhelmed with patients, like in Italy, then those who are seriously ill will be unable to get the supportive treatment they need. The percentage of people who die will be based on how overwhelmed the healthcare system becomes in New Mexico, which depends on how many people get infected all at once. In the worst-case scenario, around one third of the population would become infected in a short period of time. From the severity data, roughly 14% of them will need hospitalization, and 5% will be critically ill and need specialized treatment. For NM that would be quite devastating and the need would be much greater than what our health system could handle.
If we take community action, we can, however, make an effort to avert this disaster. We can slow down the rate of infection by staying home – social distancing. This is why we need to close the school. While children are not likely to become ill, they are at high risk to become carriers and spread the disease to others. Fewer people getting infected at any given time, means fewer people needing specialized care for the relatively few spaces available. The time to do it is before the mass infection hits. Italy waited too long. Japan, on the other hand, closed their schools when they had 200 cases – that would be the equivalent of 3 cases in NM. The sooner we practice social distancing the better.
New Mexico has been very proactive and aggressive in our approach, and we should be grateful for this. We are the third state to close our schools and regulate the size of large public functions, and our hospitals are preparing early to take on this crisis. Unfortunately, our neighboring states have not been as cautious, so while they spike in cases we will climb more slowly. As a result of this, there may be a delayed surge here in NM. But hopefully, as the weather warms, the virus will become less active. This is a historic moment; we have not experienced nor probably ever will again experience something like this in our lifetimes. We will get through this, but we are asking for your and your children’s sacrifice to help save lives.