The coronavirus pandemic has led to much debate over whether its safe or wise to send kids back to school this fall. Some fear that sending kids back to school could be a deadly mistake, while others believe that returning to school carries little risk and that the consequences of keeping kids home outweigh the benefits.
Everyone seems to agree that it’s vitally important to follow the science. So, what does the science say about sending kids back to school next month?
Let’s find out.
NBC News recently interviewed five top pediatricians around the country to examine schools reopening. The pediatricians agreed that even if children are exposed to COVID-19, most don’t get as sick as adults and serious complications for kids are very rare.
“This has been a strange pandemic because usually for respiratory viruses, children are the first and most substantially affected,” Dr. Buddy Creech, Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said. “This has really been a flip of that, where it’s our adults and particularly our older adults, that have been more affected.”
NBC News noted that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids only account for 2% of all COVID-19 positive cases though they make up 22% of the population.
Some have expressed concerns that though children may not be likely to suffer adverse health effects due to COVID-19, they could easily spread it to others, particularly older and more vulnerable teachers. The experts say otherwise.
“The data that’s come out now seems to show that most transmissions occur from adults to adults or from adults to children,” Dr. Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infectious diseases physician, said.
“The younger you are, the less likely you are to be able to transmit the disease,” said Dr. William Raszka, the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
Asked if they would be OK sending their kids back to school, all five said absolutely. Their responses were as follows:
“I will. My kids are looking forward to it.”
“Yes. Period. Absolutely.”
“Absolutely. As much as I can. Without a hesitation, yes.”
“I have no concerns about sending my child to school in the fall.”
“I would let my kids go back to school.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recently concluded that children are unlikely to experience significant problems due to COVID-19, and that children don’t spread the virus nearly as well as adults do, echoing the opinions of the five pediatricians NBC News interviewed.
“Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2,” AAP stated. “The preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection.”
APP also said that keeping kids home from school could have costs that would outweigh any benefits.
“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” AAP said.
The evidence suggests that this is true.
Dr. Tim McGuine, a University of Wisconsin health researcher and member of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Sports Medical Advisory Committee, recently concluded a study that had the objective of identifying how school closures impacted student athletes.
The study found that 65% of student athletes reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety in May 2020. It also found that 68% reported symptoms of depression during May, with 33% reporting moderate to severe symptoms, which is 3.5 times higher than normal.
Among the surveyed athletes, physical activity decreased by 50% in May during school closures and sport cancellations, and quality of life fell substantially.
“COVID-19 related school closures in Wisconsin are associated with worsening mental health, physical activity, and health related quality of life,” the study concluded.
This fall, schools should continue to follow the science, while working to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. However, educators should also consider the costs of continuing to isolate students.
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