by Alex Miller

The Wuhan Coronavirus is probably the most important thing going on in the world right now. It has infected at least 60,000 people and killed at least 1,300 as I’m writing this, and that number will be much higher even by the time you read this. It could kill 50 million people overall – as many as the Spanish Flu – according to Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University. Many Chinese cities have shut down everything not needed for living, and some other countries such as Vietnam have also shut down all schools. How likely is it that this epidemic leads to our school in Massachusetts being shut down? Not too unlikely, actually.

The virus wouldn’t have to be very dangerous for schools to end up shut down. Vietnam only has 15 cases so far, and they shut down all schools because of it. France shut down two schools just because there had been five people with the virus at a ski resort near the schools. Schools are some of the first public places to be shut down due to viruses because they are not too important and are very contagious. Anyone who’s been to school knows how easy it is for diseases to spread through them. The virus wouldn’t have to get very bad here for school to get cancelled for some period of time.

The virus would have to pose at least some threat for school to be shut down. How likely is that? So far, there are only 15 people with the virus in the U.S, and one in Massachusetts. But that could easily change, and quickly. The coronavirus started with 41 cases in China who got it from a market there, spread to 14,000 people in two months, and has spread to at least 60,000 people in the two weeks since. If some similar small number of people got the virus in the U.S while not under quarantine, it could reach such high numbers. And again, it wouldn’t have to be very high numbers to get school cancelled.

I would estimate that the odds of our school being cancelled because of the virus are around 25%. That mostly comes from my feelings, but I’m confident enough to bet money at those odds. The odds of school being shut down are probably higher than the odds of anyone in the school actually getting the virus, and much higher than the odds of over 10% of people in the school getting it. There’s probably nothing for us to worry about with regards to the virus, but there’s a good chance we miss some school because of it, and in the meantime, we should all be extra careful about washing our hands.