I’ve been getting a lot of questions from parents about whether it’s going to be safe to send their kids to school in a few weeks. Understandably, people are concerned about the safety of their kids with the outbreak continuing but also many are eager to get their kids out of the house and back to more of a “normal” life. Unfortunately there’s no right answer for everyone. These decisions need to be made by each family individually as there are many varying factors that contribute to the decision.
On one hand, it’s clear that a lot of kids would benefit greatly from heading out of the house and going to school. Being stuck at home for most of the last 3-4 months has been hard on all of us. It’s taking a physical and emotional toll on a lot of our patients and families – from lack of exercise, unhealthy snacking, and extra screen time to social isolation, boredom, and increased conflict within the home. Some parents can’t work from home and don’t really have a choice of allowing their kids to stay home; parents that do work from home may have a hard time getting things done when they are trying to manage/teach their kids all day. Getting kids back to school could do a lot to alleviate these problems.
On the other hand, of course, is the pandemic. COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. The United States has not seen a decrease in cases, and Arizona has had an alarming increase. While young kids rarely get very sick from COVID-19 and probably are not as contagious as adults, transmission of viruses in school is really impossible to prevent. So no matter how careful schools are, there’s a good chance that some kids are going to get the virus and some of those kids are going to get their family members sick. At this point, it’s impossible to predict how big a problem that is going to be.
So the decision really comes down to a balance between risk and reward: the risk of your child getting the virus and possibly getting family members and friends sick vs. the reward of getting your kids out of the house for the various reasons above. Families that have a household member who is high risk because they are immunocompromised have a different calculation of risk vs. reward than those that are young and generally healthy without any high risk family members. So our advice is: assess your own family’s risks and how much you are willing to tolerate, compare that to the benefits to your family of sending your kids to school, and go with whichever wins in the balance.
Good luck and we hope that you all stay safe and healthy this fall! And don’t forget to get flu vaccines for everyone this fall when they become available!
Jeff Couchman, MD