Return to School or Not?

Even though she fully expects schools to close at some point this fall, Indianapolis mom Laura Garrison is sending her daughter back to school. “She needs the structure as well as the social interaction,” Garrison says.

Garrison is not alone. All over the nation, parents are wrestling with the idea of sending their kids back to school. They have lots of questions. So, here are some basic questions about making that journey back to school and the facts behind them.

What percentage of kids are getting COVID-19?
Because COVID-19 is a new virus, scientific evidence on its impact on kids is limited, especially with the spring shutdowns. But current evidence indicates that while kids can be infected, most children are asymptomatic or have a very mild case of the virus. Evidence does exist that children can spread the virus to others. A recent preliminary study found that that symptomatic children shed similar viral loads as adults do.

Will my kids get the virus by going to school?
A recent study in the medical journal The Lancet found that among children between the ages of 5 to 9 years old, the risk of being positive for COVID-19 was low. But for children 10-19 years old, a South Korean study found that those children can spread the virus at least as well as adults do. Deaths among children have been few, and the percentage of children needing hospitalization is substantially lower than it is with adults. The science, however, continues to change, so uncertainty about a child’s ability to get and to give COVID-19 remains.

Will teachers be safe?
Less data exists about how teachers will be impacted by returning to school. A French study of 541 students and 46 teachers found no documented transmissions from students to teachers. But how likely the virus will be transmitted from teacher to teacher or other staff remains a question, especially since the average age of a U.S. teacher is early- to mid-40s. Because schools are like crowded indoor settings, the likelihood of transmission between adults may be higher than that of transmission from child to teacher.

Will my kids bring COVID-19 home from school, and can they increase community spread?
Anyone who has sent their kids to school knows the answer to this question. School is a petri dish of viruses and infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few reports exist showing that children can be the primary source of transmission with family members. Unfortunately, no clear evidence exists at this point on the rate of transmission that could occur.

In Israel, students returned to school with mask and social distancing requirements in May, only to shut down two weeks later when at least 244 student and school employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Japan’s schools reopened in June, where students attended in-person classes on alternating days, with daily temperature checks, and silent and socially distanced lunches. They have, so far, not shut down again.

Why should kids return to schools?
Along with social interaction and learning achievements, many schools provide a sanctuary for kids who may be abused or don’t get enough to eat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a statement saying that “lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits, as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance abuse, depression, and suicidal ideation.”

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