Alternate headline: 'Poll Shows Vast Majority of Democrats Favor Destroying Restaurants and Harming Children.' Harsh, but actually true. Lefties endlessly frame conservative policies as catastrophic, heartless and deadly -- from modest tax reductions to shifting internet regulations. The hyperbole is demagogic and exhausting. But based on new Pew Research data, if rank-and-file Democratic voters had their way, countless jobs and businesses would be crushed, and millions more American kids would be suffering due to unscientific denials of access to in-person learning. Talk about catastrophic, heartless and deadly. These partisan splits are fascinating;
A year ago, Republicans and Democrats didn't diverge too strongly on these questions, with high levels of support for all mitigation efforts polled (notice that masks weren't polled last March because in the early days, we were told the apparent white lie that masks weren't necessary and didn't help). This makes perfect sense. We'd just been hit with a scary plague, about which we knew little. Maximum caution seemed prudent while we were largely flying blind. But fast forward 11 months, and public opinion has adjusted, dramatically in some cases. Support has fallen for all restrictions across the board, and sharply among Republicans on several counts. The 'avoid large groups' question is interesting because only a bare majority of GOP-leaning voters say they still support that idea. Perhaps they're envisioning events like the Super Bowl, an outdoor extravaganza involving tens of thousands of outdoor revelers, which was roundly denounced as a reckless super spreader. Weeks later, it was determined that it was not actually a super spreader at all. And as more people get vaccinated, large groups will again gather safely. We're getting there, but a majority of respondents from both parties think we're not quite there yet.
But it's the yawning gaps on restaurants and schools that really stand out. It is incomprehensible to me that anyone would argue that restaurants should remain closed for any in-person dining at this point. In many states, such establishments have been open to varying degrees for months, including in places where COVID outcomes haven't been relatively decent. Tens of thousands of restaurants and bars closed permanently, with jobs and dreams disappearing with them, over the course of this nightmare. It's a brutally tough business with low margins to begin with. Demanding that these businesses continue to operate exclusively for takeout and delivery, with no indoor or outdoor dining component, would be a death sentence for many of the restaurants that managed to survive. It's unsustainable, unrealistic, punitive, and totally untethered from active realities all across the country to hold that view. It's astounding that three-quarters of self-identified Democrats would impose this ruinous policy on restaurants in February 2021, but there you have it.
Worse is the response on schools, wherein two-thirds of Democrats say K-12 schools should remain closed for in-person learning. Again this was last month, not last year. Many schools around the country and the world have been safely open for the full academic year, but the cultish, anti-science and dangerous "closed equals safe" mentality runs deep in center-left circles. I'm sure many people who espouse this view think they are acting in the best interests of children, but that's profoundly mistaken. A recent piece in Pro Publica, not a conservative publication by any stretch, spells out how damaging 'distance learning' and isolation has been on school age kids:
As time has gone on, evidence has grown on one side of the equation: the harm being done to children by restricting their “circulation.” There is the well-documented fall-off in student academic performance at schools that have shifted to virtual learning, which, copious evidence now shows, is exacerbating racial and class divides in achievement. This toll has led a growing number of epidemiologists, pediatricians and other physicians to argue for reopening schools as broadly as possible, amid growing evidence that schools are not major venues for transmission of the virus. As many of these experts have noted, the cost of restrictions on youth has gone beyond academics. The CDC found that the proportion of visits to the emergency room by adolescents between ages 12 and 17 that were mental-health-related increased 31% during the span of March to October 2020, compared with the same months in 2019. A study in the March 2021 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, of people aged 11 to 21 visiting emergency rooms found “significantly higher” rates of “suicidal ideation” during the first half of 2020 (compared to 2019), as well as higher rates of suicide attempts, though the actual number of suicides remained flat.
Doctors are concerned about possible increases in childhood obesity — no surprise with many kids housebound in stress-filled homes — while addiction experts are warning of the long-term effects of endless hours of screen time when both schoolwork and downtime stimulation are delivered digitally. (Perhaps the only indicator of youth distress that is falling — reports of child abuse and neglect, which dropped about 40% early in the pandemic — is nonetheless worrisome because experts suspect it is the reporting that is declining, not the frequency of the abuse.) Finally, the nationwide surge in gun violence since the start of the pandemic has included, in many cities, a sharp rise in crimes involving juveniles, including many killed or arrested during what would normally be school time. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, a Washington, D.C., suburb where school buildings have remained closed, seven teenagers were charged with murder in just the first five weeks of this year. “An entire generation between the ages of 5 and 18 has been effectively removed from society at large,” wrote Maryland pediatrician Lavanya Sithanandam in The Washington Post. “They do not have the same ability to vote or speak out.”
The article contrasts the experiences of two neighboring towns -- one in (more open, red) Texas, and one just across the border in (heavily locked-down, blue) New Mexico. The Texas students have been in school, almost as normal. Relatively speaking, they're thriving. The New Mexico students just a few miles away? They've struggled mightily, with a string of suicides and suicide attempts devastating the community. The piece cites "growing evidence that schools are not major venues for transmission of the virus." Writing in USA Today, four doctors whose research was used by the CDC to shape its guidance on school re-openings allege that the agency misinterpreted their findings, forcefully insisting that schools must reopen immediately:
The recent school reopening guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an example of fears influencing and resulting in misinterpretation of science and harmful policy...Like in so many states, California and Illinois schools are being hamstrung by the CDC guidance. The guidance does not take into account the data we have regarding little disease transmission in schools. Nor, although the guidance cites the work performed across Wisconsin districts performed by our group and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, does it take that data and new analyses from that data set into account...viral spread is minimal in schools with appropriate safety precautions, even in communities with a high disease prevalence (significantly higher than the CDC red zone that the CDC suggests middle and high schools be all virtual and elementary schools hybrid). Dr. Hoeg led a study of 4,876 grade K-12 students and 654 staff members in Wisconsin school districts last fall. COVID-19 test positivity rates reached 41.6% in the community during the study. Notably, despite the majority of ventilation systems not being replaced, with 92% of students wearing masks (no mask wearing during recess), and with variable distancing, there were only seven students (five children grades K-six, and two in grades seven-12) and zero staff who contracted the virus in school.
Similar experiences are published from North Carolina, South Carolina, Chicago and other cities and countries...School closure comes with long-term individual and societal costs. Many children cannot effectively learn, group, engage, socialize, be active, eat healthy food or get support until schools physically reopen. Children with special needs and from disadvantaged backgrounds are, in general, paying the largest price. As most private and parochial school districts are open for in-person instruction, the divide between the haves and have-nots is exponentially growing. We are observing a significant psychological epidemic in children with depression and anxiety due to the isolation associated with school closure, with suicidal behaviors. Subsequent lost wages for families translates into poverty, eviction and food insecurity. Recent research assessed there are greater risks to life expectancy with schools closed versus staying open.
"The best way to overcome fear is to follow the science, and the science shows we can safely open our schools now for full-time (nonhybrid) learning and keep them open," the doctors conclude, pointedly. And their point about lost wages also seems relevant to discussions about forcibly shutting down businesses or severely hampering their ability to remain viable. The science is clear and the consequences of ignoring it are devastating. Yet two-in-three Democrats, who undoubtedly see themselves as highly enlightened and pro-science, are willing to needlessly condemn children to more days, weeks, or months of what effectively amounts to abuse. It's very likely that the super-majorities of Democrats who want restaurants and schools closed for in-person dining or learning fancy themselves as 'on the right side of history,' and certainly superior to the knuckle-dragging neanderthals (to borrow an insult from President Unity) who want dining rooms and classrooms open. But it's the latter group that is more compassionate and realistic on the former, and more aligned with the data-driven science on the latter.