The School Paradox: Safely Preventing Pediatric COVID-19

Pediatricians agree schools are critical for child development and mental health. But their safety from the pandemic cannot be comprised for it.

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Within weeks of a new report that US pediatric coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) cases jumped by 40% in the latter half of July, schools are reopening—some under severe circumstances.

For example, Mobeen Rathore, MD, FAAP, told Contagion, his local school district, for which he advises on health matters, is required to open for in-person classes at the risk of lost funding.

Rathore, professor and associate chair, Department of Pediatrics at University of Florida and chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, explained his region of Florida is reporting a transmission rate above 7%—while national and global guidances recommend schools do not reopen until local transmission rates drop beneath 5%.

Much of the school reopening debate has hung on matters of funding, resourcing, and personnel. But a portion of it has been led by common misconceptions, Rathore noted—including those that kids cannot catch nor spread the infection as greatly as adults, both of which have been debunked in research.

However, it’s not lost on Rathore, the American Academy of Pediatrics, nor any of his peers what the value of school systems are for developing children.

“I think I haven’t come across any pediatrician who does not believe that school is the best place for kids,” he explained. “We all agree on that, that’s not even a conversation we should have. It’s the best place for their mental health, their development, their social interaction, all of those things that you and I have earned from school. It gets them ready for life. Having said that, we want to keep our kids safer.”

On top of that, Rathore noted, schools have never been safe to begin with. COVID-19 has only forced officials to consider means to make them less of a risk.