“This is exactly what we’ve been warning about”: Why some school reopenings have backfired

“In Georgia’s Cherokee County School District, for example, there have been at least 80 positive cases since August 3, and more than 1,100 students, teachers, and staff have had to quarantine. At the high school in Paulding County School District, which came to national attention after photos of halls crowded with mostly maskless students went viral, several students and staff have tested positive, forcing the school to adopt a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning. In Atlanta, one second-grader tested positive the day after classes started; the same week, a seven-year-old with no underlying conditions died from the virus.

Scientists have found clear evidence that children, especially those over 12, can and do transmit the virus, though the disease is generally more mild than in adults. This means school outbreaks can be a risk for students, teachers, and the wider community.”

“it’s not just kids, teachers, and parents who are then at risk — school outbreaks can fan wider outbreaks in communities. A recent superspreading event in Ohio, for example, found that children between ages 6 and 16 were part of the chain of transmission, passing the virus on to other children and adults.” 

“The World Health Organization recommends that schools open only if fewer than five percent of those tested for the virus over a two-week period are positive. In the US, the cut-off for what is considered “safe” for reopening schools currently varies by state, but they all tend to look at similar factors” 

“In Georgia, many schools also reopened despite high positivity rates — the percentage of people being tested for Covid-19 who have a positive result. Georgia’s number of positive tests per 100,000 people were also well above the general threshold that public health experts recommend for in-person activities.”

“Since testing overall is still inadequate to control the virus in the US, the CDC says the true incidence of Covid-19 in children is still unknown. But as Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC recently tweeted, kids between 5 and 17 now have the highest positivity rate of all age groups. “Age groups aren’t an island,” he wrote. “Spread in any group is a risk to all.”” 

“Denmark reopened elementary schools with extensive safety measures in place, like staggered entry time. Students were placed in small groups to reduce interaction, and hotels and libraries were utilized as additional class space. Even still, the rate of infection increased after Danish schools reopened, although not enough to keep total cases from declining.” 

“there’s a definite trend: Countries like Vietnam and New Zealand, which have generally done a good job controlling spread, have successfully reopened schools. Others, with higher community transmission, like Chile, have struggled.” 

“Overall, the sum of evidence — including independent studies from the USIceland, and Germany — finds older children may be as likely to spread the virus as adults when infected. A recent literature review found that “opening secondary/high schools is likely to contribute to the spread of SARS-CoV-2.” (The same review found that children under age 10 may be less susceptible to infection.)

Another review published in The Lancet highlights that adequate testing and contact tracing are essential to reopening schools. That’s not possible currently in many US states, which are still seeing positivity rates as high as 23 percent, along with extreme delays in test results.” 


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