Health News Digest

back to school

July 27, 2020

Kids Should Be Going Back To School This Fall In-Person

By Michael D. Shaw

On July 13, the Orange County (CA) Board of Education voted to reopen its schools in the fall, with various guidelines, including regular temperature checks, frequent hand washing, and thorough cleanings of classrooms, offices, and buses. There were no provisions for masks and social distancing. An assiduously documented White Paper [begins on p.8—pdf p.10], also issued on the 13th, provides further details:

1.     K-12 children represent the lowest-risk cohort for COVID-19. Because of that fact, social distancing of children and reduced census classrooms is not necessary and therefore not recommended.

2.     Requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult—if not impossible—to implement, but it is not based on science. It may even be harmful and is therefore not recommended. Viz. here and here. [The only evidence and data available on mask effectiveness against viruses are studies from the analysis of the 2009 pandemic Influenza (H1N1) virus.]

3.     Children play a very minor role in the spread of COVID-19. Teachers and staff are in greater danger of infection from other adults, including parents, than from students in their classrooms.

4.     The White Paper quotes the American Medical Association, “[I]t is important to emphasize that the overall burden of COVID-19 infection in children remains relatively low compared with seasonal influenza.”

5.     Dr. Sherry Kropp, recently retired superintendent of Los Alamitos Unified School District, summed up the conclusions of many on this issue: In closing our schools, “We have hurt hundreds of thousands more children than we have helped.”

6.     As to masks—Learning is inhibited and critical social interactions among students and between student and teacher are fractured. Mandatory masks may well lead to a spike in childhood behavior problems such as learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, and depression to name a few.

7.     The White Paper cites numerous references attesting to the extremely limited spread of COVID-19 by children. Viz. here and here).

8.     Mark McDonald, a psychiatrist who specializes in children and at-risk youth, is quoted (from his appearance at an earlier board meeting): “Children are not dying from COVID-19. Children are not passing the disease on to adults. So the only question is, ‘Why are we even having this meeting tonight?’ We’re meeting because we adults are afraid. But let’s be clear, when we do that, we are not really protecting our children. We are only attempting to manage our own anxiety, and we do that at their expense. We are acting as negligent parents. We are harming our children. We are failing them.”

9.     While a thorough discussion of distance learning is beyond the scope of this White Paper, it’s important to note that it appears so far to have been an utter failure. Abandoning the classroom in favor of computer-based learning proved frustrating to all—not just parents and students but teachers, too. Viz. LA Times; Zocalo Public Square; San Diego Union-Tribune.

However, emotion—and pressure from teachers’ unions—won the day, as Gov. Newsome declared most of the state’s counties (and thus 90% of the students) to be ineligible to return to in-school learning. Likewise, the large school district of Fairfax County, VA was all set for a fall program of in-school or virtual education (by choice), only to institute an eleventh-hour change to all virtual.

Well-known primary care physician Gilbert Simon MD articulates the skeptic/stay virtual point of view, which I summarize here.

Simon reminds us that outbreaks such as lice spread like mad among young kids, and worries that SARS-CoV-2 could be passed on in a similar manner. While he recognizes the importance of school to many non-educational aspects of a child’s life—especially those from deprived backgrounds—he urges that more thought be put into the solutions proposed, rather than taking a “business as usual” approach. Would such deprived communities suffer even more with school-caused outbreaks?

He is concerned that impoverished school districts would simply not have the necessary resources to protect their students. Indeed, it would be difficult enough for affluent districts. Moreover, adequate contingency plans do not seem to be in place. He notes that kids in multi-generational households, who attend school, may transmit the disease to elderly relatives.

Simon is passionate about the medical needs of those less fortunate, and has spent much of his career in those communities.

My take is that at the very least, we need some sort of defined endpoint, and not a constant moving of the goalposts. Recall that we were initially just trying to “flatten the curve” and not overload the hospitals. I had noted early on that our COVID-19 policy has pretty much been: Quarantine the healthy and ignore the vulnerable. Keeping children out of school continues to quarantine the healthy, while offering a poor substitute for education.

But maybe, I should just get with the program. After all, the Ivies can charge $50,000 tuition to watch Zoom videos of lectures. Who am I to argue with the best and brightest?