After several months of distance learning, kids are settling into summer, but the continued spread of COVID-19 means this summer is likely going to look different from those that came before it. Parents want kids to be able to enjoy what they can during the warm months, but an anxiety lingers because many families don't know what will happen in September—when will school reopen for in-person classes?
The American Academy of Pediatrics hopes to see students in schools come September. In recently released guidance on school re-entry, the AAP "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."
Pediatricians, of course, want to keep kids healthy and protect them from COVID-19, but according to the AAP lawmakers, public health officials and school boards need to consider that keeping kids out of school has the potential to have a negative impact on their health and may not impact the spread of COVID-19.
"There is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020," the AAP notes.
The guidance continues: "Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results 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."
The pediatricians behind the guidance point to a growing body of evidence suggesting that COVID-19 appears to impact children and adolescents differently than other respiratory viruses and that while school children are spreaders of influenza outbreaks, kids don't appear to be the ones amplifying the spread of COVID-19.
"The preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection," the AAP notes, adding that "children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home."
Studies in France, Australia and the United Kingdom suggest the spread of COVID-19 between children is rare—kids usually catch it from an adult family member, not from other children. Studies indicate kids under 20 are about half as likely as adults over 20 to catch the coronavirus, and when kids do get COVID-19 they usually get a milder version.
Of course kids with compromised immune systems are more at risk for COVID-19, but the research to date indicates that it isn't as dangerous to most children as it is to other populations.
That's why the AAP's guidance suggests that kids can be seated as closely as 3-feet apart "particularly if students are wearing face coverings and are asymptomatic". They want the kids in the schools and parents, well, not.
"Strategies to increase adult-adult physical distance in time and space should be implemented, such as staggered drop-offs and pickups, and drop-offs and pickups outside when weather allows," the guidance reads. "Parents should, in general, be discouraged from entering the school building. Physical barriers, such as plexiglass, should be considered in reception areas and employee workspaces where the environment does not accommodate physical distancing, and congregating in shared spaces, such as staff lounge areas, should be discouraged."
The idea that medical professionals believe our children could be back in school soon is good news for families who have struggled with distance learning and a lack of childcare, and the AAP's guidance comes as several states are dealing with spikes in COVID-19 cases and global fatalities pass 500,000. This doesn't bode well for schools reopening, as New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo stressed during an appearance on NBC's Meet The Press Sunday.
Addressing moderator Chuck Todd, who noted how New York has yet to make a call on whether kids will be in the classrooms come fall, Gov. Cuomo said he is planning to have kids return to school soon, but that spikes in COVID-19 cases could delay school re-entry plans.
"This is complicated so let's get the facts and we'll make the decision when we have to. If this continues across the country, you're right, Chuck, kids are going to be home for a long time." Cuomo explained.
Cuomo's counterpart in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, ordered bars in seven counties to close to stop the spread of COVID-19, a move that his government hopes will protect school re-entry plans. In California, schools are being directed to provide "in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible" during the 2020-2021 school year as per Bill AB-77.
Other states are hoping for the same. Alabama's State Superintendent says schools will reopen in September. New Hampshire's plan is focused on getting kids back into buildings. Massachusetts just announced its plan for school re-entry—with kids and teachers will be wearing masks and desks will be 6 feet apart (despite the AAP saying that's not necessary). Connecticut, too, has kids coming back in September but sitting 6 feet apart. New Jersey is eyeing alternating days of attendance to keep class sizes down.
The AAP stresses that returning to school won't be easy, but that is vitally important for the health of America's children and teens.