As summer continues right on as scheduled and we draw ever closer to what would be the start of a new school year, the question on everyone’s mind is whether children should actually be sent back. President Trump, as well as several health officials, say they should. However, many teachers and parents are less than sure about that.
On the one hand, we know that, overall, confirmed coronavirus case numbers have gone down significantly in recent weeks and months, thusly, posing a much lesser risk of infecting our children. But the other side of that argument is that the virus is still very much a reality and can even be spread, as there is, as of yet, no known cure or vaccine.
The solution, as we are finding out, is not a simple one.
Obviously, the question should consider what is absolutely the best for the children of America. Is it better for them to be physically absent from school to minimize their risk of infection? Or is the greater risk to have them miss out on much needed educational instruction and social interactions?
If the first, then what do we do about the social interaction and instructional time they are missing?
As the American Academy of Pediatrics recently pointed out, “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often result 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.”
And they aren’t wrong.
Studies show that youth suicides are up, way up. Those with mental or social disabilities are getting much worse. And as the text above mentioned, there is a real problem of food.
For far too many students, their only real source of nutrition is the provided breakfasts and lunches at school. With schools closed, these children, in many cases, simply aren’t being fed. Now, many communities have begun food drives and such for this exact reason. But what happens to the children who don’t have access to those?
The question then becomes, which is more important: a child’s hunger and social retardation or their risk of getting COVID-19 and possibly spreading it?
Neither is it a one-size-fits-all solution.
As I said, overall, case numbers have gone down. In fact, in some areas, there have been less than 20 confirmed cases and zero deaths since the pandemic began. With risks as low as this, why should kids be kept at home, where they continue to prevent parents from going back to work or, at the very least, prohibiting parents from being as productive as possible, as parents are moonlighting as teachers on their off-hours?
Furthermore, worldwide studies show that outbreaks, even in the beginning weeks of the pandemic, couldn’t be linked to schools. According to Science, “epidemiologist Gwen Knight at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and her colleagues collected data before most school closings took effect. If schools were a major driver of viral spread, she says, ‘We would have expected to find more clusters linked to schools. That’s not what we found.’”
Much of this is because school-age children are the least likely of age groups to be infected and/or carry the disease. And in nearly every case of those who do, they don’t show symptoms.
This leads those like Otto Helve, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, to say, “Outbreaks in schools are inevitable. But there is good news.” He goes on to explain that because of things like social distancing and changes to daily routines within most schools, “the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risks – at least where community infection rates are low,” according to Science.
And both Donald and Melania Trump agree, as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Melania told the press, “Children’s mental health and social development must be as much a priority as physical health.” And that is precisely why she and President Trump are pushing for schools to reopen in the fall.
Sure, there will be exceptions in areas where infection rates are still high. But we can’t let children everywhere suffer just because a few regions have more than the average number of cases.