The Debate About School Reopening, Explained
The question of whether schools can and should reopen in the fall is becoming fraught. While so far the research suggests that children are not at a high risk of getting severe Covid-19, there are still several risks.
Increasing data has suggested that while children can get Covid-19, if they do get it, the symptoms are typically very mild. In most cases, according to health economist Emily Oster, 97% of confirmed cases in children are asymptomatic, mild, or moderate. They also do not seem to get infected at rates as high as those of adults. But as the New York Times recently pointed out, many of the studies showing that children are not major spreaders of Covid-19 use data collected in countries in lockdown or where strict prevention measures are in place. Since data shows children can get Covid-19 and they can spread it (even if it’s less likely), there’s a risk of children transmitting the virus to school employees or bringing it home and spreading it to family members.
There are lots of precautions that can be put into place to try and avoid the spread, like keeping students in small groups, avoiding activities like field trips, and using strict distancing and cleaning measures. All of these options are shared by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has argued that it’s important for children to go to school in person for the sake of learning and to receive benefits like meals and mental health care.
Not opening schools means putting an enormous pressure on working parents to continue to navigate jobs, online learning, and childcare. Many parents have come to rely on school — including before- and after-care programming — as childcare while they work. The Trump administration has hammered home the risks to the American economy if schools do not open. But teachers have voiced concern about their personal safety, and that of the risk of continued spread if schools open. The reopening of schools requires adults to congregate. And that puts teachers and school staff at risk. In an Arizona school district, three teachers conducting virtual learning in a shared room caught and spread Covid-19, and one of the teachers died.