After most of the country's school districts were forced into virtual learning in the spring as a result of the growing coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Nathaniel Beers, president of the HSC Health Care System, told Cheddar it is necessary for students to return to class in-person this coming fall.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, for which Beers also serves as a member of the council of health, made the recommendation. Beers said the impact of children missing in-person interaction could be more damaging than actually contracting COVID-19.
"The impact on lack of access to adequate nutrition, lack of access to social and emotional supports, mental and behavioral supports, special education supports all impact the community of kids in different ways and families in different ways," he added.
While many businesses consider staggered or modified schedules for its adult workers, Beers said children should be in school "as much as possible" and "as many children as possible should be in school for in-school instruction," and warned keeping kids at home will exacerbate existing disparities in communities.
"That, however, is going to look very different in different communities based on the disease burden that they have, based on the resources that they have, to ensure that staff and students, and families, can all be protected if schools are going to be open," Dr. Beers noted.
Despite the recommendation, officials are still deciding how to hold school, considering health experts are still learning about the impacts of COVID-19. Beers said that while he was initially not convinced that in-person schooling was the way to go, he has changed his mind as more research indicates children, as a group, appear to be among those least impacted by the virus.
"The data has been increasing over the past six months," he said. "Children are less likely to get the disease. They are less likely to spread the disease to others. Children are less likely to give it to other kids and other adults and they are less likely to have complications from the disease."
As some states move forward with steps to reopen, according to Beers, the primary focus should be on schools rather than other operations more likely to inflate the number of confirmed cases, as in Florida and Texas.
"There was really a lack of comprehensive guidance that was helping schools think about what are the critical pieces that they need to undertake in order to ensure that kids can return to school and that schools can be prepared to safely have staff in buildings as well," he said.
While the school year is still weeks away for many students, parents considering playdates or summer camp for their children today should know "outdoor is better than indoor" and making smart decisions about potential health impacts should be the primary concern before letting children interact with others, Beers said.
"The longer you are inside in poor ventilation, the higher likelihood you are to create an exposure that will put you at higher risk for getting the virus," he added.