Saturday, November 28, 2020

Dr.Leana S. Wen | Most schools should close and stay closed through winter - The Washington Post

Opinion | Most schools should close and stay closed through winter - The Washington Post
Most schools should close and stay closed through winter

In recent weeks, prominent economistspublic health experts and commentators have argued that schools shouldn’t be closing because they aren’t major contributors to the surge in covid-19 cases.

I disagree. With much of the United States engulfed in exponential virus spread and many hospitals already overwhelmed, most schools should close and stay closed through the winter.

Those who say schools should remain open point out that bars and restaurants have led to far more documented infections than schools. They point out, rightly, that we as a society set the wrong priorities in the summer. If we had kept high-risk settings closed and followed mitigation measures such as universal mask-wearing, the infection rate could be low enough for schools to safely open.

That didn’t happen. As a result, about 1.5 percent of Americans are currently infected with coronavirus. In some areas, in a room of 20 people, there is a nearly 1-in-4 chance that someone has covid-19. The high rates of community spread impact children as well; the American Academy of Pediatrics reported on Tuesday that nearly 1.2 million children have been diagnosed with covid-19, constituting nearly 12 percent of total infections. During the last week for which data are available, the week ending Nov. 19, there were more than 144,000 new cases of covid-19 in children, by far the highest weekly increase since the pandemic began.

Imagine you’re a teacher who works in a poorly ventilated classroom for multiple hours a day. It’s challenging to keep physical distancing, and there’s a high likelihood that one of your students has the coronavirus and could transmit it to you. Being told that school transmission isn’t the main driver of community spread is hardly reassuring when you’re the one shouldering the individual risk. One in 4 teachers are older or have chronic health conditions that predispose them to serious illness if they contract covid-19. Others might have household members for whom exposure is more likely to result in hospitalization or death.

It’s important to note that many proponents of keeping schools open cite studies that show low risk of transmission when effective mitigation methods are put in place. Some well-resourced schools have implemented measures including decreased classroom capacity, improved ventilation and strictly enforced mask-wearing. Some have even moved entire classes outdoors. With all these measures, students, teachers and staff have a much-reduced risk of acquiring covid-19. But most schools lack the resources to implement such changes.

Why haven’t there been more cases in schools if many schools haven’t implemented all those safety measures? A few things are possible. Maybe there have been more infections than we know about. Children with covid-19 tend to be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. Testing is limited, and it’s hard for parents to find testing sites for younger children. Parents wishing to keep their kids in school might not want to know the result; some mothers are reportedly forming pacts to not test their kids.

CONTINUE READING: Opinion | Most schools should close and stay closed through winter - The Washington Post