Story at a glance
- Anthony Fauci says schools can be reopened safely, but on a case-by-case basis.
- The decision to allow children to return to K-12 schools is hotly debated.
As states weigh the decision whether to reopen schools ahead of the forthcoming academic year, the public is split on what path to take.
Warning the public that children are indeed potent transmitters of the virus is none other than Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief voice on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Speaking on MSNBC, Fauci said that “It’s been shown that children from 10 to 19 can transmit the virus to adults as well as adults can.” This statement is supported by an increasing number of younger Americans who are contracting the virus and experiencing some severe cases primarily associated with older adults.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW
For children, the risk tends to take shape as a multisystem inflammatory syndrome associated with being exposed to COVID-19. New York saw an outbreak of the disease since the onset of the pandemic, with nearly 200 cases reported by early May. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory regarding the inflammatory syndrome in the same month, outlining a fever, rash, neck pain and vomiting as some of the symptoms.
Otherwise, children are most at risk of asymptomatically carrying the virus and transmitting it to an older, potentially more vulnerable person, such as a teacher or parent. Because of this risk, teachers’ unions nationwide have demanded schools take great precautions if reopening, or halting live classes altogether.
Despite these risks, Fauci advocates trying to reopen schools, mainly on a case-by-case basis.
“The issue that we’re facing is that we’re in a big country, and it has significant differences where you are as to the level of virus,” Fauci continued. Some counties and cities, with lower levels of infection, can attempt to resume in-person classes, while regions experiencing outbreaks may want to pause any reopening efforts and remand students and staff to remote learning.
“You should try to the best of your ability with all considerations to the safety and welfare of the children and the teachers, we should try to get the children back to school as best as we possibly can,” he said on PBS NewsHour last week.
Speaking on a virtual town hall with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Fauci conceded that teachers will be part of the experiment of reopening schools.
“As you try to get back to school, we're going to be learning about that," he is quoted as saying. "In many respects, unfortunately, though this may sound a little scary and harsh—I don't mean it to be that way—is that you're going to actually be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know. Remember, early on when we shut down the country as it were, the schools were shut down, so we don't know the full impact, we don't have the total database of knowing what there is to expect.”
Should infections emerge or a county struggle with a high case count, Fauci recommends finding a creative solution, such as having kids go to school on alternating days, requiring masks and spacing out seating. Some public school systems are doing this, like in Chicago, where schools will begin the year by partially reopening with a hyrbid of in-person and remote learning.
CDC Director Robert Redfield told reporters Monday that he supports reopening schools, noting the public health benefits they provide outside the home.
“It’s so important now to work with school districts to see how they can take our guidelines and operationalize them in a practical way,” Redfield said.
Others are more adamant about closing schools in hard-hit states. CNBC reports that a group of infectious disease experts warned against reopening schools last week in states like Arizona, Florida, California and Texas until they can lower the rate of transmission.
“When you have such surges of disease in the community, you’re basically asking for trouble if you open schools, because you’re bringing in individuals from all across the community that potentially may be exposed to it,” Tina Tan, a doctor and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University said on a conference call with the Infectious Disease Society of America.
“It’s imperative that people pay attention to what the rate of infection is in the community because that’s going to drive whether or not it’s safe to open schools,” Tan continued.
President Trump, however, vehemently supports the reopening of schools, and went so far as to threaten to cut federal funding from institutions that do not comply. The CDC later released new guidance on safely reopening public schools, recommending that disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, washing hands and physical distancing are good mitigation techniques. Face masks and coverings are also encouraged, but the CDC notes that it is not always a tenable option and does not condone children younger than two years of age wearing a mask.
Currently, a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) is underway to investigate COVID-19 interaction with children.
BREAKING NEWS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC