The Atlantic Daily: School Is About More Than Education

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Katie Martin / The Atlantic

The arrival of the fall semester didn’t end the debate over school reopenings. It’s not even September yet, but some schools have already opened and then closed because of outbreaks.

Below, you’ll hear from two mothers, a physician, a tutoring professional, and more, as they all try to process this tough back-to-school season—and what it means for students themselves:

Remote learning is a bad joke.

The writer, author, and mother Emily Gould shares her story: “While I won’t go so far as to preemptively throw in the towel, I’m not sure how long or how hard I’m prepared to fight.”

School is about more than just an education. We’ve stolen its other benefits from our kids.

Chavi Eve Karkowsky, a physician and a mother of four school-age kids, writes: “Among the things we’ve given up to this pandemic, it’s become clear, are our children’s external worlds.”

Desperate parents hope learning “pods” can offer relief.

Brian Platzer, who runs a tutoring company, says he gets dozens of calls a day about the private, parent-formed learning groups. Are they the solution?

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A warning: Not all U.S. students have high-speed internet access.

“Some teachers say they’re fighting to ensure that all of their students can log into class each day,” our health reporter Olga Khazan writes.  

Adam Maida

One question, answered: I’m planning to travel to see loved ones. I haven’t had any symptoms or been exposed, but I’m worried about getting other people sick. Given all the testing shortages, should I get tested as part of my preparation for the trip? Or afterward?

Robinson Meyer, who just reported on a potential testing plan that could give us our lives back, responds:

As long as you’re not trying to get tested multiple times a week, for several weeks in a row, I don’t think you need to be worried about exacerbating a testing shortage. Right now, the federal government does not say that states (or individuals) should be trying to ration tests. In fact, many states require newcomers to get tested or quarantine for 14 days, and national testing numbers might be declining in part because fewer asymptomatic people are seeking out tests.

What’s more: One of the biggest risks of traveling during the pandemic isn’t catching the virus but spreading it. So you’re doing the right thing by getting tested! You don’t want to bring the virus to a town or a city that hasn’t faced it yet.

That said: There are right and wrong ways to get tested. It will probably take a few days for any test result to come back, so don’t get tested right before you leave. And it will also take a few days after you get infected for the virus to build up in your system, so you shouldn’t get tested right after you arrive. (If you contract the virus on a flight, but get tested the next day, then you will still test negative.) I think that Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT who has been studying testing, has the best plan for how to fit testing into a safe travel plan:

  • You should get tested three days before you plan to depart. If the test is negative, then you can travel. If it’s positive, then delay your plans and quarantine for 14 days. You can travel when that period has passed (and you don’t need to get tested again).

  • For people with a negative first test: Once you arrive at your destination, you should get a second COVID-19 test, but it must be at least five days after the first test. Quarantine as much as possible until you get your result. If this second test is negative, your quarantine is over. If it’s positive, then quarantine for 14 days after your test date.

Finally: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a handy guide to which modes of travel are the riskiest for contracting or spreading COVID-19. And I should add that although the agency isn’t discouraging nonessential travel, it says: “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

What to read if … you want practical tips:

What to read if … you’re wondering why several Republicans spoke at the Democratic National Convention’s opening night:

Progressives are worrying that the Democratic party’s tent is getting too big, our politics writer Elaine Godfrey reports from a (Zoom) watch party: “[T]his outreach to Republicans confirms their worst fears about a potential Biden administration.”

What to read if … you need a break from the news:

Every week, our photo editor Alan Taylor devotes an entire gallery to extraordinary photography of one American state, as part of his “Fifty” project. His most recent edition takes us to the state also known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Can you guess which one? Here’s the answer.


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