AHCJ webcast to explore how schools might safely reopen this fall

Bara Vaida

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

Photo: Phil Roeder via Flickr

America’s 13,000 school systems have been under tremendous pressure to reopen in-person classes this fall but are struggling with how to do it safely and handle the increased costs.

The CDC on July 23 launched a webpage highlighting what it described as science-based resources and tools to guide school administrators, childcare providers, teachers and parents in resuming operations. Some of the content, however, has been criticized by experts who advocate a more cautious approach.

To help reporters cover this evolving story, AHCJ will hold a webcast on school re-openings at 11 a.m. ET on Thursday, July 30. Among the questions that will be discussed include the conditions that are needed for schools to reopen safely, the role that children play in transmission and what schools need to have in place to conduct virtual learning.

In the meantime, here’s some background to help with your coverage.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the nation’s national science academy, issued a July 15 report urging schools to lean their decision making toward reopening schools. The report particularly singled out issues concerning the challenges of educating children under 10 years old and those with special needs, noting that schools provide not only education but also meals, social connections and health services that are difficult to provide remotely. Last spring’s shutdowns have had the most impact on low-income children and in families where parents are considered essential workers or must work outside the home.

“The reality is schools are what families have,” David Cohen, visiting professor of education at Harvard University, told The New York Times blog Chalkbeat. “Especially poor families and Black and brown families.”

Research from Iceland, South Korea and Switzerland have shown that children under the age of 10 don’t seem to transmit the SARS-Cov2 virus (which causes COVID-19) as easily to other people and don’t seem to get as sick as adults, notes Dr. Wendy Armstrong, professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Even when children in this age group have the same amount of virus as an adult who is sick, “they don’t transmit quite as well,” as an adult, Armstrong told reporters at an Infectious Disease Society of American briefing on July 21.

For this reason, the National Academies is urging schools to develop a strategy for opening schools that educate kids under the age of 10.

The challenges of balancing safety concerns versus the need for access to education, health benefits and food become greater for children ages 10 years and older because studies show they are increasingly infectious the older they get, Armstrong said.

Many of the nation’s largest school districts already have decided not to reopen in the fall. Education Week has been tracking school systems’ decisions and, as of July 23, nine of the nation’s 15 largest school systems have chosen remote learning as their only model for the 2020-21 school year.

We invite AHCJ members to submit questions in advance of the July 30 webcast here. Scheduled panelists include Dr. Enriqueta Bond, chair of the National Academies’ Advisory Committee on Reopening K-12 Schools in the Time of COVID-19 and lead author of the report about school re-openings, and Dr. Tina Tan, professor of pediatrics an pediatric infectious diseases attending physician at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

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