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Milan is the V-8 engine of Italy’s economy. Known as an industrial and financial powerhouse, Milan is also famous for its foul air. Now the city and its region, Lombardy, have become the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus pandemic. To stop the virus’ spread, factories, offices, restaurants and bars are closed. People are ordered to stay at home. The traffic is gone.

And the air is much cleaner. Satellites report a dramatic drop in the region’s air pollution. Since the lockdown started on March 9, the levels of nitrogen oxide in northern Italy have plunged dramatically. NO2 is a toxic gas that can cause inflammation of the body’s air passages. Clean air has been a bright spot in the region’s immense suffering.

Earlier, when China closed down its industry and told residents in the infected areas to shelter in place, the satellites noted a large drop-off in China’s air pollution. Once the virus was contained and China restarted economic activity, pollution picked up.

This is not, of course, a call to freeze the American economy until the U.S. totally wipes out the coronavirus. Business must resume at some point, though let’s pray that our political leaders have the wisdom to retain the ban on large human gatherings until this horrid microbe is under control.

This is merely a call for the world’s industrialized peoples to breathe deeply and think: Clean air is kind of nice. Smog, the kind of air pollution you see and smell, also causes lung disease. And a byproduct of cleaning the air is a lowering of planet-warming gas emissions. Climate change will remain an existential threat long after the coronavirus is tamed.

Perhaps this direct experience — easier to comprehend than the scientists’ complicated models — will build support for a faster move to clean energy. My editor, Alissa Stevens, in notoriously smoggy Los Angeles says, “Skies are clearer than we’ve ever seen.” The city was recently treated to a double rainbow over the Pacific Ocean, visible end to end. Everyone understands that.

The coronavirus has shuttered Venice, Italy. The massive waves of tourists are gone. No day-trippers. No gigantic cruise ships. The remaining Venetians have been ordered indoors.

But for some populations in Venice, social gatherings are booming. Shoals of tiny fish have returned to the canals. The daily flotilla of boats that churned up waves, making the water muddy, has been stilled. The canals are now hosting crabs and new plant life. Large water birds can be seen diving for fish, and ducks are leaving eggs.

Though tourism is Venice’s economic lifeblood, not everyone there is totally unhappy with the quiet. There’s been a growing movement in recent years to curb the city’s overwhelming tourist numbers (20 million a year!) and restore some serenity to “La Serenissima.”

Bad air can add to a virus’ death toll. Researchers in China and the U.S. looked at mortality during the earlier outbreak of the SARS virus. They found that patients in areas with heavy pollution were twice as likely to die from the virus as those living under clearer skies.

Cai Xue’en, a delegate of China’s National People’s Congress, told Bloomberg News that in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, “I think environmental protection will rank even higher for both the central and local governments.”

No, we don’t want a return to the pre-industrial age. Those who argue that an economy in deep recession, or even depression, is also bad for people’s health have a point. But reduced pollution gives us a window into what we could experience daily were the environment cleaner. Sure, that may involve economic tradeoffs, but some would be worth making for a life more in tune with the Creation.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.