Start Normal? Take a Closer Look…

This blog post and the previous blog post both stem from a discussion about San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) School Reopening on our local Nextdoor platform. The full Nextdoor discussion is accessible at https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=151832244, but requires both a Nextdoor account to access and is also only geographically accessible from some neighborhoods in the SMUHSD.

I was the author of the notes that follow about the “Start Normal!” movement begun by entrepreneur David Binetti.

I had looked at Mr. Binetti’s work previously and had posted the following notes in my article SMUHSD Debating a Change to a Quarter System?.

(6/9) In another thread on Nextdoor at https://nextdoor.com/post/151144511, a series of videos on a site called https://www.startnormal.com has been discussed. They are made by a San Carlos resident.

In his first three videos, he tries to make a compelling case using research studies that COVID-19 will not spread in schools, but then has to backpedal in his fourth video when viewers presented him with two cases in which spread did happen. He concludes that we don’t yet know why it happened in those two cases, but the scores of other studies still say that school transmission is not likely. I am just passing this on in the interest of looking at all sides of the issue. He also is running a petition drive to reopen schools normally. If interested, I would encourage you to watch all four videos first before you make a decision to sign.

(6/10) I wrote the two paragraphs above yesterday evening.  Mr.Binetti overnight removed his previous four videos and his list of research references and on 6/10/2020 only has a single video designed to get people to sign his letter.  This change looks extremely bad in my opinion as he did this switcheroo AFTER receiving evidence countering his position.  This is intellectually dishonest and appears as simply an attempt to promote his petition drive!!

(6/15) Mr. Binetti has revamped his website once again and has restored the deleted videos mentioned immediately below.

The videos reappeared on 6/15, but less prominently positioned on a “Videos” tab accessed from a menu bar at the top of his home page.

Several days later I had time to look into the research that Mr. Binetti cited and then I composed the following note on Nextdoor.

First note that the data that he cites comes from a website with an odd name (“Don’t Forget the Bubbles” ???), but appears to be run by legitimate doctors from the U.K.’s National Health Service.  It was established to try to make sense of a flood of data of varying quality, much not peer-reviewed, and also from a variety of international locations, some of which may be subject to government censorship.

Please don’t forget that there is a reason that good scientific studies are published in respectable, peer-reviewed journals.  These are unusual times, and decisions need to be made faster than the traditional scientific research review system can handle.  This means that the level of uncertainty  in the research results is therefore much higher.

Secondly, I do not have the time nor the expertise to scan all of the medical literature on pediatric COVID-19.  I have limited the comments below to only the data that Mr. Binetti cites to make his case for “Start Normal!”


From my 6/21/2020 comment on  https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=151832244 :

If you go to David Binetti’s website startnormal.com, you can hear his school reopening argument in the Videos tab.

I suggest that you listen to *all* of the videos under the Videos tab in order. There are links to a UK research site that flash briefly on the screen at various times in the videos.

The URL is https://dontforgetthebubbles.com/ and the study that Binetti specifically links to in video 3 is https://dontforgetthebubbles.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/COVID-data-3rd-June.pdf.

Numerous research studies are cited in that article and making sense of them is not easy. A lot of data comes from China, and one wonders how much of this data can be trusted because of possible government interference.

Nonetheless, Binetti makes very dramatic claims at the end of video 3 (update added on 6/22/20 in this blog – please watch the entire video 3, not just the end!) and then has to backpedal in his “Parents Response to #3” video. NOTE – He also then hid all of this information for several days after receiving this opposing information as I documented in my article at https://eduissues.com/2020/06/04/smuhsd-debating-a-change-to-a-quarter-system. You might want to look there first. (update added on 6/22/20 in this blog – my comments just referred are also presented at the beginning of this article.)

The article at https://dontforgetthebubbles.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/COVID-data-3rd-June.pdf states:

“The role of children in transmission is unclear, but consistent evidence is demonstrating a lower likelihood of acquiring infection, and lower rates of children bringing infections into households.”

This is much more qualified than the claims that Binetti makes at the end of video 3.

In another article on the site https://dontforgetthebubbles.com/the-missing-link-children-and-transmission-of-sars-cov-2/, the following conclusion is stated:

“We have seen above that children appear less likely to get infection, and that fewer children seem to have the infection in the community. There could be fewer cases just because there are fewer infected children. What we don’t know is how many infected children brought an infection into their home, but didn’t give it to anybody – as these cases would never be discovered (and won’t until we have sero-surveillance). Children may be less infectious or not, but we do not have any evidence for that at present.”

and also

“What about schools?

Specific evidence in regards to transmission in schools is lacking, due to rapid shutdown at the start of the pandemic. A systematic review of the impact of school closures on the transmission of SARS and COVID-19 found only equivocal evidence for their impact in controlling transmission.

A study from an outbreak around a French secondary school has received some attention, as they found 40% of pupils and staff became infected with no difference between the two groups. What is important in this study, is that almost all the students in the study were aged 15-17 years of age, who appear to have similar disease characteristics to adults. Of the children 14 and under, a very small proportion got infected (it’s not clear how many were students and how many were family contacts). We cannot derive useful information from this study about younger children at present.

Another study from New South Wales in Australia demonstrated very low rates of infection in school children and low rates of spread, however, the absolute numbers are low (18 cases total, 12 secondary and six primary) so again it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from this study regarding spread in schools, despite the data being reassuring.”

and finally the qualified conclusion

“It is not clear how likely an infected child is to pass on the infection compared to an infected adult, but there is no evidence that they are any more infectious”

Sadly I can not tell when the last time this article was updated.

The bottom line though seems to be that the older the student is, the greater the risk of transmission from students to others may be which is clearly relevant to high schools as opposed to K-5.

Given the uncertainty, it is completely understandable that teachers do not want to be experimental subjects in a situation where their lives may be at risk.

I am completely sympathetic to that concern.

I just wish that there was likewise some concern regarding the point that I have been “noisily” making for years, namely that the education system should be equally cautious when using our kids as subjects in their education experiments:

https://eduissues.com/2018/01/29/never-believe-educational-experts-or-me

Make no doubt about it – all of these abrupt changes are once again moving us into uncharted territory, but in this case, we don’t have a lot of options.

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired scientist, teacher, bioinformatician, IT director, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist (7690 miles and 724,300 feet of climbing in 2015), backpacker, you name it! Current avocation is tutoring high school students near San Mateo, CA in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Please see the Bio link in the right sidebar for my detailed background information.

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