Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC held a conference call on February 26, 2020 (link to transcript). Dr. Messonnier was the first public official that laid bare the potential impact of the pandemic on our daily lives. She faced immediate blowback for trying to sound the alarm on school closures:

“Some community level interventions that may be most effective in reducing the spread of a new virus like school closures are also the most likely to be associated with unwanted consequences and further disruptions.  Secondary consequences of some of these measures might include missed work and loss of income. I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe.  But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.  I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning and I told my children that while I didn’t think that they were at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives.  You should ask your children’s school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures.”

Nancy Messonnier, M.D., Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.

A recent documentary called Totally Under Control by Alex Gibney (Hulu) details what happened behind the scenes in early 2020 and the many talented experts who tried their best to prepare us. Dr. Messonnier’s story is included in the documentary.

I was curious if our education system would be able to take advantage of this “pause” to help educate students on what will most likely be the single biggest event in their lifetime. Thinking through my limited education, interesting historical books, and documentaries, I thought of a few examples of what I would have found helpful at varying grade levels:

  • Basic level virology – (I confess I was a poor biology student, but that could have been age related as well as the thought of dissecting a frog.)
  • History: read John Barry’s “The Great Influenza” and understand how the Spanish Flu spread, its impact on WWI, and influenced our existing healthcare system.
  • Economics: how did the Black Plague impact the economy in Europe (cost of labor, societal effects).
  • English: read Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”
  • Contact tracing exercise for one family member.
  • How did Polio change the daily lives of American children?
  • Government’s role in public health (past and present).
  • Journaling the pandemic experience—whether it’s a written journal or photos you’ve taken with your phone.

I recently watched a lecture in the MIT Department of Biology: COVID-19 Pandemic Series on Epidemiology. A lot of it was over my head, but I found it interesting and informative. There is a lot of free content available because it’s in the interest of public health. The educators finding creative ways to engage their students should be commended.

I’ve asked friends and family about education, and many bring up standardized testing. With virtual school, in person classes, a hybrid, some students quarantining or a whole class quarantining, it seems nothing about 2020 will be standardized. How can we prepare for the future if we aren’t learning about it now?

From public health to inequality to urban planning, advanced analytical techniques are pointing us towards a new normal that can be more resilient, safer and sustainable – if we care to listen.

Eric Macres, 5/28/20

“Wearing the mask, staying at home, innovating, pivoting, doing what you can to keep people safe and working is American.” via Washington Post