Open the schools without politics

As of June 3, 2020, the CDC reported that there have been 20 deaths in children in the U.S. due to COVID-19.  In my home county of Orange in California, no child has died due to COVID-19.  JAMA Pediatrics for May 11, 2020 had this to say: "Finally, it is important to emphasize that the overall burden of COVID-19 infection in children remains relatively low compared with seasonal influenza."

We have never closed schools or forced children to wear masks during an influenza season.  Yet the CDC has issued guidelines recommending face coverings for elementary school–aged children, social distancing, reduced classroom populations, and other suggestions that make little scientific or common sense.

To put some of the COVID statistics into perspective: Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States.  In 2017, 675 children 12 years old and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and nearly 116,000 were injured.  In the same year, according to the CDC, drownings claimed the lives of almost 1,000 U.S. children.  That is 50 times greater than COVID-19!  As a result, would you favor closing down all swimming pools in the United States?

The argument that children should wear face coverings to prevent the asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus to a high-risk teacher or administrator is also fallacious.  First of all, there is little if any evidence that asymptomatic children are spreading COVID-19 to adults.  Indeed, the World Health Organization issued a report on June 8 indicating little evidence of asymptomatic transmission of the virus.

Secondly, the way a healthy society ought to handle individuals at risk for any disease is to protect those at risk, not mandate a solution affecting the other 99%.  For example, a recovering cancer patient whose immune system is suppressed from chemotherapy ought to stay at home during a declared pandemic or take extra precautions (face shield, mask, gloves) when in public spaces.

Mandatory face coverings on children is very harmful to the child: learning is inhibited; critical interactions among students and between student and teacher are fractured; and the face covering is counterproductive, as kids will naturally touch their faces, thereby contaminating their covering.  This new normal that many are advocating may well lead to a spike in childhood behavior problems such as learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, and depression, to name a few.

I believe that the path forward for our country is to achieve sufficient herd immunity from COVID-19 to protect the majority of the population.  One of the best mechanisms to protect the highest-risk folks is to allow the lowest risk individuals (children and young adults) to develop protective antibodies.  When that happens, the COVID-19 virus will be less likely to spread.  We cannot achieve herd immunity by effectively quarantining a substantial number of the healthy members of the herd.  Our schools should never have been shut down in March to begin with, and now they should be opened with few restrictions.  A healthy society quarantines the contagious, protects the most vulnerable, and lets everyone else operate freely.

My prescription for opening the schools:

  1. Children should not be required to wear face coverings.
  2. Classroom size should not be reduced — no social distancing is necessary for children.
  3. Temperature checks should be performed regularly and ill children, teachers, or staff should be sent home.
  4. Good hygiene with frequent hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizer should be encouraged.
  5. Classrooms, meeting rooms, and administrative offices should be thoroughly cleaned each night.
  6. Higher-risk teachers and staff should consider working remotely or using PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) at school.

There are already financial strains on our public education system.  Further politicizing school openings will drive more parents to homeschool or to seek out more child-friendly environments such as charter schools or private schools.  Of course, in the latter case, that could be a silver lining emerging from the COVID-19 crisis and limit continuing governmental overreach.

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