Amid pressure from the Trump administration to reopen schools in the fall, the safety of students and teachers has become a major topic of debate as new coronavirus cases hit a record high. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Kavita Patel, MD, explains what we know — and what we don’t — about how to balance social distancing with in-person learning.
KAVITA PATEL: So we're in the middle of a summer season where we're seeing record numbers of new cases of the coronavirus but we're also having to make some really important decisions about schools.
- Across the country, parents are wondering what the next school year will look like for their children.
- President Trump saying he will do whatever it takes to help schools reopen in the fall despite the coronavirus pandemic.
- We are strongly encouraging and urging governors across the country to reopen schools this fall.
- Right now, we're continuing to work with the local jurisdictions to how they want to take the portfolio guidance that we've given to make them practical for their schools to reopen.
KAVITA PATEL: Everybody is debating about how much schools themselves could be a place for the virus to be easily transmitted. And this comes down to just a couple of facts. Number one, we know that children have not been what we call vectors, people who can transmit the virus.
But let me just break it down more simply. We have not done enough testing. And we do not understand enough about the virus to know truly what the effects are in children, both short-term and long-term. So the decision to reopen schools has to be done in light of the fact that there could easily be more information in a month that changes some of this guidance.
So practically, if you're trying to understand what to do as a parent of any school age child, you should have a conversation with the school leaders to understand what measures they expect you to take in order to send your child safely to school, everything from whether or not they can go on a bus, whether they have to wear masks, how they have to keep their hands clean. And then you should also ask the schools what they are going to be doing while they are on the school's property or on their way to school to stay safe.
Another huge set of questions that's worth considering, can we get children and adults tested in a timely fashion. Can we get contact tracing if there is an infection? And can we safely isolate a child or adult if we find out that they are positive at school? Even at its earliest, expecting a vaccine by the end of the year, we still will not have enough doses for everybody in the United States, certainly all the children and adults. And on top of that, we really do want to make sure that what you're giving your children is as safe as possible.
So I would say that if you're waiting, it could be that you're waiting until the spring or summer of 2021. And we already know from children who have been out of school from March to June that that amount of time outside of school has had really negative effects. So I would say that you should think about sending your children before we have a vaccine and that even when we have a vaccine, please keep in mind it might not be 100% effective, so that even if we all are vaccinated, we might still need to take some of these precautions. And that's why I encourage people to have that dialogue with their school's leadership.