Are Seniors More at Risk If Children Return to School?
Researchers have learned many things during the COVID-19 pandemic. One is that children become infected less often than adults. And they usually have milder or no symptoms.
The general consensus is this is due to their strong immune systems. What is still being studied is how capable they are of spreading the virus to other kids. Or to adults, such as teachers, parents and grandparents.
Dr. Alison Tribble is a pediatric specialist. She's based at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. It's located at the University of Michigan. She says, "It seems consistently, children do have lower rates of infection than adults."
"We need more robust studies to evaluate how children are part of the transmission chain." So says Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill. She's an infectious disease pediatrician at Oregon Health and Science University.
Schools Will Be the Testing Ground
What are the "laboratories" for determining how likely children are to become infected? And how likely they are to spread the virus?
"Schools will now be the experiment." That's according to Dr. Aaron Carroll. He's a pediatrician at Indiana University School of Medicine. Almost all schools and daycare centers have been closed since March. So late summer and fall will be the test.
Studies show children are less likely than adults to spread the virus. Other studies show the older the children are, the more likely they are to spread it.
Regardless, for parents and seniors living with children returning to school, it's a risky experiment.
There Is Cause for Concern
The truth is, there is a lot we still don't know about COVID-19. Including how it spreads.
There is definitely cause for concern as some schools return to in-classroom teaching. Especially in America, which tops the world in confirmed cases and deaths.
How does a particular county determine whether it's safe to reopen schools? There is no standard measurement.
But here's what one metric shows. If there are more than 25 new cases per 100,000 people per day in a county, schools should stay closed.
Do Benefits Outweigh Risks?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends reopening schools. But with a number of protocols in place.
They include regularly disinfecting all areas of a school that students and faculty can access. Plus frequent instruction to children regarding hygiene. As well as distancing and mask wearing.
CDC Director Robert Redfield said this. "It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall."
Dr. Bill Miller is a physician at Ohio State University. He believes advantages outweigh risks when it comes to opening schools. But he also says they need to be ready to close again on short notice.
Anita Cicero adds this. "Schools should consider postponing bringing kids back into the classroom in regions where there is substantial community transmission of the virus. This should be a national priority."
3.3 Million Seniors at Risk
Approximately 3.3 million seniors live with school-aged children. That's according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Often this occurs because working parents can't stay with kids during the day.
Those children represent only about 5 percent of confirmed cases in America. But as scientists say, the risk may be low but it is not zero.
Parents and seniors should take precautions if they live with school-aged children. Or even if they interact closely with those kids. Such as during visits or rides to and from school.
A statement from KFF reads this way. "The risk posed by COVID-19 to older family members is just one of the many factors that state and local officials will need to consider as they... safely reopen schools. These decisions could affect several million older adults."
Teach Your Children (and Grandchildren) Well
Are your children or grandchildren returning to school for in-person classes? If so, you'll want them to be as protected as possible. Both for their sakes and yours.
We don't yet know how likely it is that those children will infect adults once they are in classrooms again. But we know it's possible.
Here are some steps you can take to try to ensure that everyone will stay safe:
- Talk to the kids, reinforcing CDC guidelines regarding sanitation protocols and social distancing.
- Include small plastic containers of hand sanitizer in their backpacks.
- Give them facemasks you are confident they will keep on. The masks need to be comfortable and hopefully express their personality in some way. Unique masks will decrease the possibility that they'll wear another child's mask.
- Take the kids' temperatures every morning before they head off to school.
- If possible, drive the kids to school or walk with them. Rather than having them take the bus.
- Pack the kids' lunches in brown bags rather than a reusable lunchbox. Your food might be healthier and safer than that given in a school cafeteria.
The precautions we take now with our school-aged children and grandchildren could help us in the long run.