As governments try to decide whether school is safe, infectious disease expert Raina MacIntyre weighs in on whether children can gather in groups.
As governments try to decide whether school is safe, infectious disease expert Raina MacIntyre weighs in on whether children can gather in groups.

Hear from the expert: Is it safe to send kids to school?

Allowing schools to reopen and letting thousands of kids to congregate together is negating the sacrifices people are making around social distancing.

Whilst kids are less likely to die from COVID-19, child deaths have been reported including in China, the US and UK.

In addition, children are likely to still get mild or asymptomatic infection (rather than not get infected at all) which will be amplified in school and childcare settings and create a risk of transmission to parents (who in the case of high school children will be in their 40s and 50s) and grandparents, as well as teachers.

Opening schools again will negate all the gains we have made through social distancing. Picture: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images
Opening schools again will negate all the gains we have made through social distancing. Picture: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Deaths of teachers have also been reported in several countries.

We have already had numerous infections in children and teachers in Australia.

When we can offer online education for high schoolers, and the class dismissal model recommended by WHO (which allows schools to remain open for children of essential workers), there are ways to reduce congregation of children in schools

 

If children have the option of remote learning, there are ways to reduce attendance at school. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
If children have the option of remote learning, there are ways to reduce attendance at school. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Kids generally are not very hygienic, they don't wash their hands, they interact with each quite physically and much more than adults do.

With many other viruses, and we don't have data on this virus yet, but they also excrete the virus for longer periods of time.

For many of those reasons kids are good transmitters of viruses.

Children can easily pass infections on to adults. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
Children can easily pass infections on to adults. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Epidemic diseases increase rapidly in size. It is not like malaria and diabetes where you have months or years to think about your policy options.

When an epidemic is growing, the situation next week is going to be much worse than this week and the week after that is going to be even worse.

Rushing to reopen schools could reverse all the good progress social distancing we have made, because children can pass on infections to adults.

Professor Raina MacIntyre is Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW. She is an expert in influenza and emerging infectious diseases.

Originally published as Hear from the expert: is it safe to send kids to school?


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