While nearly 300 million students across 22 countries out of school due to the coronavirus, officials in Washington state are resisting calls to follow suit amid the nation’s hardest-hit outbreak of the deadly disease.
Microsoft employee Andrew Davidoff tells Reuters that while he’s been told to work from home to slow the spread of the virus, his daughter and other children in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) should also be sent home after 12 people have died of COVID-19 in the state.
“LWSD is doing everything they can to get me sick,” said the 59-year-old Davidoff – one of more than 20,000 people who have signed an online petition demanding school closures.
The district, however – much like schools in New York and Los Angeles – has resisted calls to send students home.
“School closures can be disruptive and costly for families,” said LWSD in a statement, recommending that schools remain open unless there were specific COVID-19 risks.
The dilemma over whether to close schools has rolled into the United States as U.S. coronavirus cases top 200. The outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on schools worldwide, the education of over 290 million students affected in 13 countries, according to the United Nations.
Closures have long been a U.S. response to influenza, a dangerous and highly contagious disease for students. But health authorities are rethinking their approach for coronavirus, shown to have limited effects on children. –Reuters
“Do we really want to close schools or do we want to keep schools open so faculty can continue to come in and serve children?” said Seattle and King County health officer, Jeffrey Duchin.
Still, some of Seattle’s schools have closed – including the Northshore School District, which shut its doors on Thursday after a staff member was possibly exposed to COVID-19 and a student absentee rate of around 20%. It said that the students would receive online instructions.
Davidoff thinks that’s the right approach.
“Kids will have mild exposure but they will be spreading it to vulnerable parents,” he said.
Economic impacts and asymptomatic carriers
Reuters then appears to side with the school district – noting that having a large portion of the country’s 56 million+ school children in the US stay home for weeks or months could put a serious strain on an economy which is already facing great risks from coronavirus. What’s more, schools provide meals to more than 30 million students, as well as free childcare to working families.
With nearly 25% of the US workforce having no paid sick leave if they’re forced to stay home with their kids, the impact of school closures would be felt throughout the country.
According to the report, some think that school closures would increase the chances of community spread.
School closures could have a paradoxical effect on coronavirus spread.
If children are carrying the infection but not showing symptoms, they could be an invisible reservoir for community spread, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Duchin said sending students home to grandparents or older caregivers could expose them to the virus. And students sent home often gather together at places like malls, risking community spread.
“If kids are not getting infected and they’re not getting sick, then the last thing you want to do is shut down a school,” said Osterholm, citing data that only 2.1 percent of China coronavirus cases were among those 19 or younger. –Reuters
Proponents of school closures such as Satya Ananthu disagree – saying that children would spread COVID-19 to their families if schools don’t shut down.
“Having kids in school will make them carriers of the virus to older people,” said Ananthu, an Everett, Washington tech worker who started an online petition advocating for shutdowns.
Another online petition was launched last weekend by eighth-grader Michael Finlayson of Kamiakin Middle School in Kirkland, and has nearly 22,000 signatures as of this writing.
“We are literally a half-mile away from ground zero for this virus,” said Finlayson.
Some parents, such as 27-year-old parent Alicia Aguirre of Los Angeles, have kept their children home voluntarily.
“I am going to go by the week and the numbers,” she said.
Another parent, 36-year-old Jamilah Mabruk is conflicted. Living 10 minutes from the Kirkland area of Seattle – where almost all of the state’s deaths have occurred – she’s nervous about sending her 15-year-old daughter to school. While her daughter doesn’t want to miss classes due to grades, she suffers from asthma and could be more severely affected by the virus.
“My anxiety is out the roof. I am very concerned because every day there is something new … a new death,” said Mabruk.