As Coronavirus Cases Surge, How Should Leaders Decide What Stays Open and What Closes?

As Coronavirus Cases Surge, How Should Leaders Decide What Stays Open and What Closes?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Do schools offer in-person learning where you live? Are restaurants open for indoor dining? Would you feel safe in either?

With coronavirus cases surging across the United States, many local leaders are facing a difficult dilemma: How should we balance livelihoods against lives? How should we weigh the survival of today’s economy against the education of a generation of children?

What do you think should be the priority: keeping schools or restaurants open?

In “Europe Keeps Schools Open, Not Restaurants. The U.S. Has Other Ideas.,” Sharon Otterman and Eliza Shapiro write:

Across much of Europe, even as coronavirus cases rise anew, governments are keeping classrooms open while forcing restaurants and bars to shut their doors. But in some American cities, officials have opted to keep students home even as dining rooms bustle with customers.

Facing a second wave of the virus, New York City stands on the precipice of once again closing its classrooms. But with restaurants still serving customers in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration faces a now-familiar conundrum: As the virus gains ground, should dining rooms be shuttered before classrooms?

The question reflects the complicated calculus that the pandemic has foisted onto cities all over the world, asking officials to balance livelihoods against lives, and to weigh the survival of today’s economy against the education of a generation of children.

There are no simple trade-offs, and it is possible that both schools and indoor dining will close in the coming days or weeks. For now, though, the city appears headed toward a discordant new status quo, asking hundreds of thousands of children to learn in front of their laptops even as New Yorkers are still making indoor dinner reservations.

New York City’s children face weeks or months without any in-person instruction if the city’s positivity rate reaches 3 percent over a seven-day rolling average. The city could hit that threshold in just a matter of days.

But while educating children is plainly more essential than eating indoors, the sacrifice involved with shuttering restaurants is not suffered primarily by diners. New York’s restaurant industry, which employs many low-income New Yorkers of color, risks financial collapse without federal stimulus dollars. Thousands of jobs are at stake, as is a major lifeblood of the city.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Before you read the article, what was your gut response to the question of whether schools or restaurants should close first to help control the virus? Why? After you read it and learned about some of the considerations — scientific, political and economic — that will affect millions, did your opinion change?

  • If you were mayor of New York City or governor of New York State, what would you do? Why?

  • Many U.S. cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, have closed classrooms while allowing restaurants to seat customers. In Europe, classrooms are open while bars and restaurants are shut. What do you think of this? Do you think we in the United States can learn from European approaches to lockdowns, restrictions and reopenings?

  • Is your school remote or in person? Do you think that was the right choice for you and your community? Are restaurants where you live open for indoor dining? Do you feel comfortable eating in them?

  • Whether you prioritize keeping restaurants open or not, how do you think we should support the restaurant industry? Should Congress pass a federal relief plan for restaurants and bars so they can afford to stay closed? What are other ways you could support restaurants and other businesses that depend on indoor patrons?

  • Wherever you fall on the question of schools reopening, many experts around the world worry that extended closures will have serious consequences both for children’s academic progress and for their mental health. Do you agree, based on what you see in your community?

About Student Opinion

Find all our Student Opinion questions in this column.
Have an idea for a Student Opinion question? Tell us about it.
Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.