On Tuesday, the US recorded its deadliest day of the COVID-19 pandemic yet. Over 4,300 Americans died from the respiratory illness or related complications.
As the pandemic rolls on, many people are focused primarily on the toll it takes on the elderly and immunocompromised. However, the disease can be contracted by children, and it can even cause serious illness.
The risk of spread of COVID-19 continues to roll along in spite of efforts to vaccinate the population with newly-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The vaccine rollout has not been as speedy as health officials had hoped, leading some to warn it could be years before herd immunity is reached at this point. As such, the role that children attending school plays in the community spread of COVID is under scrutiny now.
The science surrounding child cases of COVID is still being studied by researchers. However, what is known is that children can and do get COVID, and can spread it to other children and adults alike. However, the overall danger of being exposed to COVID is being weighed against the damage caused to children by school closures.
There are several competing health interests in play. For one thing, when schools are closed, that puts a strain on the mental health and education of children. Time spent out of school and away from friends has a negative impact on the socialization and learning of young children. Meanwhile, the potential for children to spread COVID within a community is high, as kids are likely to forget about safe social distancing guidelines or disregard mask safety regulations.
Some research suggests that school closures could slow the spread of COVID by as much as 20 percent in some communities. One study undertaken by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich showed as much. However, this must be weighed against the negative effects of shutting schools down. On top of the aforementioned mental health and educational damage done by school closures, experts must also consider the daily realities of families with young children.
Children needing to stay home every day puts stress on families. Many parents work during the day, and few are qualified to help educate their own children. By shunting children out of school and back home, this puts stress on families to find childcare or otherwise leave children unsupervised throughout the day while they handle online schoolwork.
At present, there is no good answer. Many health experts are simply hoping that the vaccine rollout speeds up considerably in the coming months to bring the rolling pandemic to a halt. Until then, the thorny question of how much to open schools remains.