Will opening schools with COVID-19 cases still growing put kids in danger?

Maybe.

A growing body of research has provided a treasure trove of information on how we can more or less safely reopen schools.

Here’s the quick summary.

Distance learning costs the average student months of academic progress — especially if they’ve got handicaps or emotional and mental health issues or come from low-income families.

Moreover, not going to school increases the danger to children from a host of other factors — including child abuse, hunger, social and emotional problems.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control has concluded: “The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on social, emotional and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children are well known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person education options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disability.”

On the other hand, studies have also shown that schools can develop clusters of cases that can spread to many students and staff. That’s why many epidemiologists say schools should remain closed until the virus is under control in the community and school officials have the resources — including plenty of tests — to quickly identify an infection and test all the close contacts. The other countries who have safely reopened schools have generally met those two conditions.

So here’s a summary of some of the most recent research.

  • Children under 18 account for 7% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and 0.1% of deaths.
  • The CDC reports that between 37 and 187 children die from the flu annually. So far, 64 children in the U.S. have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Studies suggest that while some children contracted COVID-19 from exposures at school, most of the known cases came from family members. Even in families, the infection mostly goes from adults to children rather than vice versa, according to the CDC summary.
  • In France, a study found substantial spread of the virus in a high school after two teachers got infected and worked for weeks before they realized they were spreading the virus. Antibody testing showed 38% of students, 43% of teachers and 59% of non-teaching staff had contracted the virus.
  • In Israel, testing at a high school found infections among 153 students and 25 staff. Another study in Israel found few infections when schools first opened and children almost all wore masks, but an explosion in cases during a heat wave when school authorities gave children permission to stop wearing the masks.
  • In Texas, cases have skyrocketed. Mass testing at 883 preschool facilities found infections among 894 staff members and 441 children — up from just 210 cases two weeks previously. The study suggests despite the resistance of children to infection, schools will still get caught up in a bad, overall community outbreak.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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