Thursday, July 2, 2020

COVID-19 isn't like Kid Crud. So Maybe Returning to School Won't be a Disaster.

A month ago, I would have told you that sending a bunch of kids indoors into schools during a pandemic was nuts. Dangerous, even.

But then I started reading the literature. And now I'm thinking it may not be as nuts as I originally thought.

I think one thing we all have to deal with (especially us parents) is overcoming our well-founded belief that kids are disease vectors. This is something I (and probably many of you) have experienced over the years. Our kids go to school, come home with the sniffles and suddenly we parents are down for a week or two. Who hasn't explained a persistent cough, fever, sneezing as "kid crud"?

We all have.

Which is why it just seems common sense to think that getting these little disease vectors back in school during COVID would be a horrible idea.

But it appears that, at least with COVID, the "kid crud" prejudice may not be justified.

For example:

  •  One study  found that children were the initial source of infection among the families in about 8% of households.

  • Another study looked at staff and students at five Australian primary schools and 10 high schools and found that out of 863 people who were in close contact with someone with Covid-19, only two got it
  • Another study discovered that a 9-year-old who attended three different schools and a ski class while showing symptoms of Covid-19 didn't infect anyone, which would never happen if the 9-year-old were an adult. 
  • Likewise, British researchers have found only one COVID outbreak in the entire world that could be credibly said to have started in a school.
And while some express caution about these results, with the caveat that no one study proves anything, none other than the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a legendarily cautious and small c conservative organization -- came out and all but said that kids should go back to school buildings in the fall. According to one of the authors of the AAP's school guidance:
"This virus is different from most of the respiratory viruses we deal with every year. School-age kids clearly play a role in driving influenza rates within communities. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Covid-19. And it seems like in countries where they have reopened schools, it plays a much smaller role in driving spread of disease than we would expect."
The AAP recommends taking precautions, but it also says that the mitigating efforts should be geared toward returning kids to classrooms, citing the health concerns kids have with remaining isolated, as well as the fact that in-school learning is so much better, overall, than online learning.

Look, it's been tough for me to turn at all on this issue. Letting kids get together indoors in groups during a pandemic seems completely illogical to me.

But I also have learned to trust science. And the science is saying that physically returning kids to schools, with the attendant precautions (hand washing, mask wearing, socially distancing however you can and making sure you don't go to school sick and go home if you do get sick) may actually work.

This is basically the approach our Gov. Mike DeWine is now advocating, though he isn't mandating any school or district to return full bore this fall. I will be intrested to see how much of the Cares Act money he's willing to spend to help districts and schools cope with the post-COVID reality. But at least he recognizes there will be a need, though importantly he already admits that the new money won't be enough to cover the cost.

Typical Ohio education funding.

Anyway, I know lots of parents will still doubt. Their experience with "kid crud" is so ingrained that they are like I was -- doubting every single piece of evidence that says returning to school isn't as dangerous as our experience suggests.

But the science is telling us something different. And if we want science to govern our COVID response, it's incumbent upon us to let it.

Even when it says we may have to set aside our lifelong battle with kid crud. 

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