Scientists and doctors studying infectious diseases in children broadly agreed in a recent New York Times survey of school openings that elementary school students should now be able to attend personal school. With security measures like covering and opening windows, the benefits outweigh the risks, said a majority of 175 respondents.
The following is a representative selection of her comments on key issues, including the risks to out-of-school children. the risks for teachers to be in school; whether vaccines are required before schools open; how to distance yourself in crowded classrooms; What type of ventilation is required? and whether their own children’s school districts got it right.
In addition to their daily work on Covid-19, most experts had school-age children themselves, half of whom attended personal school.
They also discussed whether the new variants could change even the best plans for the school opening. “There will be a lot of unknowns with novel variants,” said Pia MacDonald, an infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International, a research group. “We need to plan for what they expect and develop strategies to deal with the school with these new threats.”
What would you like more people to understand in the school reopening debate?
Most of the respondents work in academic research and around a quarter work as healthcare providers. We asked what their expertise taught them that they felt others should understand. Overall, the data suggest that with precautionary measures, especially masks, the risk of transmission in school is low for both children and adults.
Do you think your local school district made the right decision about opening?
About 85 percent of experts who lived in places where schools were open all day said their district made the right call. Only a third of those in places where schools were still closed said it was the right choice.
Besides the virus, what is your biggest concern for child wellbeing during the closure?
The group expressed great concern that other aspects of children’s health and wellbeing were neglected during the pandemic, which could have potentially serious long-term consequences.
Should vaccinations of a certain group – such as teachers, parents or students – be a prerequisite for school openings?
The experts firmly believed that while vaccines are important, no population should be required to open schools while other precautions are taken to ensure the safety of teachers and students. (This, along with much of what the panel said, is in line with the federal government’s new recommendations for opening schools.) Many recommended that priority be given to vaccine teachers and frontline staff.
How important is adequate ventilation in the school, e.g. B. with open windows or air filters?
Many experts agreed that ventilation of school buildings – along with masks and distancing – is important in order to minimize the spread of the virus. However, they stated that good airflow doesn’t require major renovations or expensive air filters. This could be achieved with open windows, box fans and outdoor courses.
How important is it to divide students into small, fixed cohorts who take turns going to school?
Many school districts have split the classes in half and brought each half back part-time to minimize exposure to the virus. The experts said such strategies could be helpful in situations where keeping your distance was impossible and for contact tracing. But many pushed for other solutions instead.
How much distance should schools need between students, assuming they are masked?
Although most respondents said it wasn’t critical that classes be split in half, most preferred a standard of six feet between children in classrooms – which can be impossible to achieve with full classes. This is an example of how opening schools requires creativity and the weighing of risks: many said the 6-foot standard could be relaxed in situations with good ventilation, especially in younger children who are more likely to spread Covid-19 is lower.
How concerned are you that new variations could disrupt personal school plans in the spring and fall?
The emergence of Covid-19 variants around the world has raised concerns that current knowledge about school safety may no longer apply. Overall, the experts in our survey said that the variants could affect the plans for the school opening. But few believed that they would certainly cause significant problems, also due to the current adoption of effective vaccines.