US President Donald Trump wants schools to reopen after the coronavirus shutdown, saying children “don’t get very sick”.
But there’s nervousness about students cramming back into school hallways.
Fauci says local conditions should guide decisions
Like Australia, the decisions about reopening schools in the US differ from state to state.
Some states have already reopened facilities, while others are looking to do so soon.
The country’s top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has told a Dartmouth medical panel there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether schools should open their doors.
“You can’t make one statement about bring children back to school in this country,” he said.
“It depends on where you are and we’ve got to be very flexible.”
This is leaving room for a lot of debate about the issue.
Trump is downplaying the risk to children
Mr Trump has been asked by a reporter if American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) data that shows 97,078 children tested positive between July 16 and July 30 has given him pause about reopening schools.
Here’s what he said:
“No, because they may have — as you would call it — a case, it may be a case, but there’s also a case where there’s a tiny fraction of death, tiny fraction.
“And they get better very quickly.”
He also said this:
“I think for the most part they (children) are very well.
“They don’t get very sick. They don’t catch it easily.
“They don’t get very sick and, according to the people who I’ve spoken to, they don’t transport it or transfer it to other people — or certainly not very easily.
“So, yeah, I think schools have to open. We want to get our economy going.”
The child infection rate appears to be increasing
More recent AAP data shows 179,990 new cases of coronavirus were reported in children between July 9 and August 8.
That’s a 90 per cent increase in child cases over the past four weeks.
However, the data is complicated by what each state classifies as a child.
Some states consider anyone aged 14 and under a child, while others count anyone under 24 in that category.
And children represent 9.1 per cent of all cases in states that break down their case numbers by age.
More than 380,000 US children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic at the beginning of the year.
So that means a little less than half of the new child cases were reported in the past month.
Data shows few child deaths
There are a few data points published by the AAP to pay attention to when considering how severely children are impacted by the virus.
Children make up between 0.5 and 5.3 per cent of total reported hospitalisations due to coronavirus in the US.
But the data is a little sketchy because, of all the child cases reported, somewhere between 0.3 and 8.9 per cent have resulted in hospitalisation.
Child deaths from coronavirus are quite rare with, at most, 0.5 per cent of all child COVID-19 cases resulting in death.
But after the publication of a South Korean study into how children transmitted the virus, Dr Fauci acknowledged in an interview with CNBC that school-aged children could pass on COVID-19.
“It’s been shown that children from 10 to 19 can transmit the virus to adults as well as adults can,” he said.
Emotions are running high
With some students already back at school, there have been concerns about a lack of space to allow for safe social distancing in classrooms and halls.
One student, Hannah Watters, posted to Twitter a photo of a crowded hallway at her school, North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.
“This is not OK. Not to mention the 10 per cent mask rate,” she wrote.
The photo quickly went viral, and Hannah was suspended over the post — a decision that was later reversed.
In an interview with CNN, Hannah said she had received death threats over the tweet.
“I know I’m doing the right thing and it’s not going to stop me from continuing doing it,” she told CNN.
“But it is concerning, especially since it’s a lot of the people I go to school with, people I’ve known for years now that are threatening me.”
Outbreaks have been reported at schools
Hannah told CNN she posted the photo to Twitter because she was worried about the safety of her school, which reopened on August 3.
It was later revealed six students and three staff members from the school had tested positive for coronavirus.
Education officials said the school would be closed for two days while the building was disinfected.
In nearby Cherokee County, 12 students and two staff from a dozen schools tested positive during their first week back.
It led to more than 250 students who were potentially exposed to the virus being sent home to quarantine for two weeks.
Despite this, Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp has said the reopening of some of the state’s schools, which closed in March, was going well.
“I think quite honestly this week went really well, other than a couple of virtual photos,” he said at a news conference yesterday.
But Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear urged schools in his state to delay reopening until late September.
The Democratic Governor said he wanted to get children back in the classroom, but Kentucky did not yet have the virus under control.
“Getting them back at the height of the pandemic, I think, would be irresponsible,” he said.