The first is the likelihood that your child will acquire the virus in a school setting. It is obvious that the virus is more easily transmitted in a closed environment in which numbers of people are in prolonged, close contact. We know that transitory, casual contact, e.g. passing someone in a hall, is unlikely to result in transmission. We know mask wear can be an effective means of protection when appropriate masks are properly worn in close settings. We believe that frequent hand washing helps as well. Practically speaking, how do you get a class of twenty or thirty third graders to comply? Good luck with that. One has to ask, “so what?” If there is one thing we know with near certainty about the virus, which has been consistent throughout this crisis, it is that children under 15 are remarkably immune to its worst effects. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/covid-19-is-very-different-in-young-kids-versus-adults-67637 The risk of death in a child under 15 is statistically 0%. Yes, there are tragic exceptions but they are just that. We cannot adopt policies for the under 1% that are severely detrimental to the other 99+%.
The most significant concern about opening the schools is that of children acquiring the virus then transmitting it to adults, i.e. their teachers, parents, and most significantly aged grandparents. Another of the consistent findings regarding the virus is the difference in transmissibility of the virus from children to adults https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/146/2/e2020004879 . Children are not drivers of the pandemic, as data from multiple countries has shown. As data is gathered, it is increasingly apparent that vertical transmission, from child to adult, happens very infrequently. Are we to jeopardize the education and social well-being of a generation of children to protect a few teachers? If the teacher is middle age or younger, and healthy, their risk from the virus is extremely low and they are able to take measures to protect themselves. If they are severely compromised, they should be excused from classroom teaching for the duration. Again, we can manage this without shutting down schools. As to the families, the parents can take similar precautions and, if they feel truly vulnerable, they should have the option of keeping their children home without prejudice. The idea that we can keep a nation of children home when most parents work and do not have the wherewithal to leave them home or find caretakers is ludicrous. Authorities on the issue are unanimous in stating that virtual schooling cannot replace classroom time. As to the grandparents, how many families today have three generations under one roof? The number is around 8% and those families can take precautions as well, without the need to keep schools shut down.
The issue of whether to open schools or not should not be a point of debate. https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2020/07/14/american-academy-of-pediatrics-clarifies-stance-on-reopening-schools/ We should be discussing how to open schools in a way that is most beneficial to students while using what we know about the virus, which is a great deal, to protect them and those around them. It bears repeating that children under 15 are truly not at risk. To say they are flies in the face of the evidence. To say this can be done with 100% safety is also unrealistic. If we hold to this standard, we will never return to any semblance of normalcy.
Richard T. Bosshardt, MD, FACS