Below is a letter written by New Rochelle High School student Jake Egelberg, a member of the New Rochelle High School Science Research Program and Gold Medalist at the 2019 GENIUS Olympiad. Other members of the Science Research Program as well as other concerned students at New Rochelle High School have signed on to the open letter calling on New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo to close schools in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in New Rochelle.
Dear Dr. Feijoo,
We write to you as concerned students in the New Rochelle School District, Science Research students with biological research experience, and members of our own loving families.
In the past week, Washington, Florida, and California have declared ￼states of emergency, while new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Westchester County, New Jersey, Maryland, and Tennessee. Across the United States, more than 200 cases of novel coronavirus have been confirmed. Inevitably, this virus will spread. And, being a virus, it is difficult to stop with typical sanitation procedures. Purell with high alcohol content is limited in its effectiveness against viruses like novel coronavirus. Handwashing is the most effective method of neutralizing the virus, but is only a viable protection from infection if hands are washed after touching every potentially infected surface.
Now that this virus has made its way to New Rochelle, I urge you to reconsider your decision to keep New Rochelle Schools open. It is not too late to prevent an exponential increase in viral transmission.
Currently, many New Rochelle residents have been exposed to the virus, but have not been isolated from the rest of the community. For instance, while those that attended the same Young Israel of New Rochelle Bat Mitzvah as New Rochelle’s Patient 0 have been quarantined, their family and relatives, who live in the same households, have not. This is understandably because of the administrative difficulties of tracking secondary and tertiary infections. However, some of these individuals attend New Rochelle City Schools and place students at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
Per your current plan, in the event of a student or staff member contracting and being diagnosed with the virus, their infected building will close temporarily for sanitation. Once sanitation is complete, the building will re-open and students will return. This plan fails to account for the following hypothetical:
Student X is infected with the novel coronavirus, but has not been diagnosed because they are not showing symptoms, as is typical of young patients. Student X sits at a desk in their first period class at New Rochelle High School. They touch their face with their hand, and their hand to the desk. Next period, another student sits at that desk. This student, student Y, is now infected. As student Y is infected, student X sits at another desk in another classroom, and it is now infected with COVID-19. Once third period begins, student X and Y are sitting at new desks, each one now infected with COVID-19. Simultaneously, 2 new students, sitting at each of student X and Y’s desks in their previous classes, are infected. In between classes, student X and Y have talked to friends, touched doorknobs, and drank from water fountains. Each of these objects is now infected, and will infect other students. This chain of infection continues until all 9 periods have passed.
In this plausible scenario, hundreds of students could be infected in one day, and hundreds of students will return to older parents at home who are especially susceptible to the novel coronavirus. Some students will return home to grandparents, who, if they are between the age of 70 and 79, risk an 8% mortality rate, and if they are over the age of 80, risk a 15% mortality rate (Wu & McGoogan, 2020). These infections and possible deaths could be prevented if schools are closed proactively.
But, there is no need to rely on hypotheticals to demonstrate the need for the preemptive closure of schools.
Huaiyu Tian et al recently published a study analyzing the effectiveness of policies adopted by 297 cities in mainland China at containing COVID-19. Here it was reported that, “…cities that implemented control measures pre-emptively, before the first case was reported, had 37% fewer cases in the week following the first reported case…compared with cities starting control after the first case.”
Huaiyu Tian et al.’s findings are supported by historical data. Writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blythe Bernhard describes how the 1918 Spanish Flu was warded off by early closures of schools, movie theaters, saloons, sporting events, and other public gatherings. According to Bernhard, “thanks to the quarantine, St. Louis’ death rate in 1918 was lowest among major U.S. cities. In Philadelphia, where bodies piled up on sidewalks when the morgues overflowed, the death rate was nearly twice as high.”
Dr. Feijoo, there is no harm in taking preventative action against a clear biological threat to the health and prosperity of our community. Education is secondary to the student body’s physical and mental wellbeing. Our New York suburb has been gripped by a palpable and pervasive anxiety. It is only reasonable to respond with logical policies proven in their effectiveness to stem the source of this fear. Please consider our request to act with the aforementioned hypothetical scenario, scientific research, and historical data in mind, and close New Rochelle schools.
March 6, 2020
Concerned Students of New Rochelle
Jobin Binu Daniel