We Asked 175 Pediatric Disease Experts if It Was Safe Enough to Open School
The experts expressed deep concern about other risks to students of staying home, including depression, hunger, anxiety, isolation and learning loss. Although these experts specialized in children’s physical health, many concluded that the risks to mental health, social skills and education outweighed the risks of the virus.
“Children’s learning and emotional and, in some cases, physical health is being severely impacted by being out of school,” said Dr. Lisa Abuogi, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the University of Colorado, expressing her personal view. “I spend part of my clinical time in the E.R., and the amount of mental distress we are seeing in children related to schools is off the charts.”
The survey respondents came from the membership lists of three groups: the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, the Decision Sciences for Child Health Collaborative and the American Academy of Pediatrics subspecialty group on epidemiology, public health and evidence. Some individual scientists also responded. Nearly all were physicians, and more than a quarter of them had degrees in epidemiology or public health as well. Most worked in academia and about a quarter in clinical settings, and most said their daily work was closely related to the pandemic.
Though their expertise is in children’s health, they cited evidence that with masks and other precautions, in-school transmission was very low, including from children to adults.
“I completely understand teachers’ and other school employees’ fear about returning to school, but there are now many well-conducted scientific studies showing that it is safe for schools to reopen with appropriate precautions, even without vaccination,” said Dr. Rebecca Same, an assistant professor in pediatric infectious disease at Washington University in St. Louis. “They are much more likely to get infected from the outside community and from family members than from school contacts.”
The survey asked experts about various strategies that schools are using to keep students and staff safe. The experts said many such measures would have some merit, but identified two as most important: mask wearing and distancing.