Despite the uncertainty, the experts consulted by the Globe affirm the latest scientific test is strongly in favor of sending children to school, provided that two conditions are met: transmission of the virus should be low in the surrounding community, as is the case in most Massachusetts towns and cities; and the school system should wholeheartedly adopt safety measures such as wearing mandatory masks, physical removal, and open windows or open classrooms whenever possible.
“There are these horror stories from parts of the country that still have a high transmission [of coronavirus]”
But in reality, Chiang said: “If community transmission of the virus is controlled, you can safely reopen schools. You should do it with precautions. “
Approximately 70% of Massachusetts school districts offer a mix of in-person and distance learning; most of the rest will only provide distance education, and a handful are attempting to learn in person full-time.
Children under 18 they can be infected with the coronavirus, but it rarely makes them sick and is extremely unlikely to kill them. Although the data remains obscure, infected children, especially those under the age of 10 —Appear less likely than adults to spread the virus to others.
When children get COVID-19, studies show they are more likely to get it from an adult than from another child. The frightening syndrome associated with COVID-19 that can strike children – Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children – has so far proved extremely rare.
A difficult fact remains: the COVID-19 risk can never be reduced to zero.
But Barocas said the conversation overlooked the considerable risk to the children’s mental and physical well-being, as well as their education, if they stay at home.
“My kids are probably at a higher risk for depression than they are for COVID right now,” she said.
Barocas and his wife have decided to send their children, ages 3 and a half and 7, to public schools in their neighborhood of Roslindale next month, when they start learning in person. They weighed the relatively low transmission speeds in the area, their children’s willingness to wash hands and wearing masks (“They live with an infectious disease doctor”) and the fact that both parents work and have limited time to oversee home education.
They concluded that the risk of their children becoming ill or passing the virus to others was significantly lower than the risks associated with “sitting home alone at the computer all day”.
But Barocas said it “would not be unreasonable” for another family to make the opposite decision.
The risk-benefit ratio is particularly stark for children under the age of 10: according to the evidence so far, these young people are less likely to get sick from the coronavirus or pass it on to others, and have more to lose if isolated from children. their peers at home.
“The damage of keeping children out of school is enormous,” said Dr. Cody Meissner, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center. “It’s not just education, it’s socialization, starting from a very young age. Preschoolers learn to interact appropriately with each other. If they don’t learn early, it will be a big deal.”
School closures are particularly damaging to underserved families, Meissner said. “Those students won’t learn what they need to get paid work in this global economy and they will never catch up,” he said.
As child-to-adult transmission appears to be rare, he said: “The risk for teachers is very, very low. The risk of a teacher being infected with COVID-19 is greater when he is in a supermarket buying groceries than when he is in the classroom. “
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, disagreed. He pointed out that unlike many schools, grocery stores don’t suffer from decades of deferred maintenance and don’t have documented air quality problems. Furthermore, teachers not only work with young children, but also with students with special needs up to 22, with whom social distancing may be impossible, he said.
Teachers, Tang said, want to go back to school but worry about their safety.
“We need to have verifiable guarantees that our facilities are safe,” he said. “The number one concern is air quality,” especially in older buildings, some of which don’t even have HVAC systems or windows that can be opened.
In the United States, the school season is still new and the health consequences of school openings have not been carefully monitored. But lessons can be learned from experiences in other parts of the world.
Take Israel. In May, the country seemed to have coronavirus under control and decided to open all schools at the same time. At the same time, other parts of the Israeli economy also opened up, increasing the likelihood of the virus lurking.
The small classrooms were full of 38 students. And then a heat wave hit. The sultry students were allowed to take off their masks and soon the windows were closed to run the air conditioning. Within days, an epidemic began in a Jerusalem high school, spreading to homes and eventually to other schools and neighborhoods, forcing hundreds of schools to close, the New York Times reported.
Brandon L. Guthrie, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at the University of Washington, has been monitoring school openings around the world. “If you are going to reopen the schools,” he told the Globe, “you have to have plans on how to limit the scope of circulation. And you have to stick to those plans.”
In Europe, Guthrie said, schools reopened just as community closures ended. “As there are more people interacting and leading their normal lives, there is still potential for transmission,” he said.
And once there is community broadcast, the cases will show up in schools. “That doesn’t mean you have transmission in school,” Guthrie said. It remains an open question to what extent schools contribute to the spread of the coronavirus outside their walls, he said.
However, the experience in Europe provides encouraging insights.
In the UK, when schools and preschools reopened for the ‘mini’ summer semester in June following the peak of the pandemic, very few cases occurred.
In an August 6 report, the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that coronavirus transmission within schools is rare and found little evidence that schools drive transmission within a community.
With precautionary measures in place, Denmark did not experience major school outbreaks or an increase in disease transmission when schools reopened. In Sweden, where schools remained open during the pandemic, teachers were at no greater risk of contracting the infection than people in other professions.
In the United States, some lessons can be drawn from other types of children’s gatherings.
Adequate precautions were not taken last June at a night camp in Georgia, where maskless campers in unventilated cabins engaged in “loud chanting and cheering.” Nearly half of the 597 adults and children who participated in the test tested positive for COVID-19.
In contrast, only three cases were reported among 1,022 people who attended four overnight camps in Maine where there was testing, insulation and other precautions.
Last week, the Massachusetts Medical Society said it supports “the safe and equitable return of as many students, teachers and support staff as possible to school facilities in person.”
However, parents won’t find clear lines or black and white answers. Even the best security efforts are bound to be fallible, said Barocas, a father and physician from Boston.
“These are children,” he said. “They’ll pull down the mask, wipe their noses with their hand.” By accepting that the risk can never be zero, he said, the best anyone can do is reduce the likelihood of disease transmission as much as possible.
Felice J. Freyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer