Follow the Science and Reopen the Schools


Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Americans have been told to "follow the science." Lockdowns and Social distancing requirements were necessary and justified if one would simply follow the science.

The science suggests that reopening schools is justified and even needed, so why are so many politicians refusing to do so?

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is unambiguous in its recommendation that "school districts should prioritize reopening schools full time, especially for grades K-5 and students with special needs."

In a new study entitled "Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Prioritizing Health, Equity, and Communities," the organization concludes that "opening schools will benefit families beyond providing education, including by supplying child care, school services, meals, and other family supports. Without in-person instruction, schools risk children falling behind academically and exacerbating educational inequities.

"While it will be impossible for schools to entirely eliminate the risk of COVID-19," the report continues, "young children in particular will be impacted by not having in-person learning and may suffer long-term academic consequences if they fall behind as a result. In grades K-3, children are still developing the skills to regulate their own behavior, emotions, and attention, and therefore struggle with distance learning. Schools should prioritize reopening for grades K-5 and for students with special needs who would be best served by in-person instruction."

Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.

"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," the AAP notes. "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 use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families."

The tangible benefits of in-person education further outweigh the risk of Coronavirus spread because of the fact that in-person education doesn't seem to be spreading Coronavirus.

As The Atlantic reported, "France, Germany, Denmark, and other countries have reopened schools. Sweden has had schools open the whole time. Oddly, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence is provided by what we haven’t seen: much in the way of large-scale outbreaks linked to schools. Some cases, yes—but not super-spreader events like the ones documented all over the world at bars and meatpacking plants."

A recent Swedish study even determined "that on the whole, teachers and teaching assistants were not over-represented in Sweden's confirmed coronavirus cases when compared to other occupational groups."

In fact, "for preschool teachers and upper secondary school teachers, the calculated relative risk was lower than average." The study found that just "29 [Coronavirus] cases were confirmed among Sweden's 30,357 upper secondary school teachers, 68 cases among 68,605 preschool teachers, and 160 cases out of 105,418 secondary school teachers."

If schools were "super-spreaders" of Coronavirus, one might expect those numbers to be massively higher given the relatively close contact in which teachers and students spend each day.

The reason that schools haven't been spreading the virus at higher-than-normal rates is that children themselves spread the virus at far lower rates than adults.

In a commentary published in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers determined that children simply haven't been spreading the disease.

"The evidence suggests that children are less likely to become infected, less likely to develop severe disease and less likely to transmit the virus to other children and adults,” one of the study's co-authors, Dr. William Raszka Jr. said. "It is wildly different from flu."

This is well in line with earlier research from the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that "children at any age were mostly reported to have mild respiratory symptoms, namely fever, dry cough, and fatigue, or were asymptomatic." Since so many cases were either mild or asymptomatic, children were less able to spread the disease through typical means such as coughs or sneezes.

Dr. Naomi Bardach, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California-San Francisco determined that transmission of the virus in elementary school children is especially rare, and that "staff and teachers, as adults, are more likely to transmit it to each other" than they are to get it from their students.

The only major study--from South Korea--that has thus far contradicted this research has been touted in the media as backing the contention that it is simply too dangerous to reopen schools, but a closer examination of its methodology reveals that its sample group is far too small to offer any such conclusions.

As Dr. Francois Balloux, the director of the University College London's genetics laboratory pointed out, "only 0.5% and 2.2% of the potential 'index cases' fell in the 0-9 and 10-19 age groups, respectively."

Just how small a sample size is that? Dr. Alisdair Munro, a clinical research fellow in pediatric infectious diseases at University Hospital Southampton, noted that "there were only 42 secondary cases from kids aged 10-20, meaning a single super spreading event in a big household from an 18 year old could hugely skew results.

"Here is the kicker," he added, "I have seen unpublished data on this same cohort of children [and] almost every single secondary case from a child index case shared the initial exposure, meaning they probably became infected at the same time; the child just developed symptoms first."

Incidentally, that study found that children aged 10 and under did not spread the virus as easily as adults, and this finding was well in line with the growing body of research that is showing that children do not get serious complications from Coronavirus and do not easily spread it.

While the science is far from settled, it is worth following, and the science is clearly indicating that schools should reopen this fall. It's about time that opponents of this start following the science instead of their own personal or political preferences.

Photo: Getty Images


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