Publisher's note: The author of this post is Jon Guze for the John Locke Foundation.
A recent report
by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control makes that very clear. Here are the report's "key messages" (emphasis added):
- A small proportion (<5%) of overall COVID-19 cases reported in the EU/EEA and the UK are among children (those aged 18 years and under). When diagnosed with COVID-19, children are much less likely to be hospitalised or have fatal outcomes than adults.
- Children are more likely to have a mild or asymptomatic infection, meaning that the infection may go undetected or undiagnosed.
- When symptomatic, children shed virus in similar quantities to adults and can infect others in a similar way to adults. It is unknown how infectious asymptomatic children are.
- While very few significant outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools have been documented, they do occur, and may be difficult to detect due to the relative lack of symptoms in children.
- In general, the majority of countries report slightly lower seroprevalence in children than in adult groups, however these differences are small and uncertain. More specialised studies need to be performed with the focus on children to better understand infection and antibody dynamics.
- Investigations of cases identified in school settings suggest that child to child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children whose onset of infection coincides with the period during which they are attending school, particularly in preschools and primary schools.
- If appropriate physical distancing and hygiene measures are applied, schools are unlikely to be more effective propagating environments than other occupational or leisure settings with similar densities of people.
- There is conflicting published evidence on the impact of school closure/re-opening on community transmission levels, although the evidence from contact tracing in schools, and observational data from a number of EU countries suggest that re-opening schools has not been associated with significant increases in community transmission.
- Available evidence also indicates that closures of childcare and educational institutions are unlikely to be an effective single control measure for community transmission of COVID-19 and such closures would be unlikely to provide significant additional protection of children's health, since most develop a very mild form of COVID-19, if any.
- Decisions on control measures in schools and school closures/openings should be consistent with decisions on other physical distancing and public health response measures within the community.
These results are consistent with another recent report
that anaylized the spread of COVID-19 in schools in Finland and Sweden. Here's an excerpt from the summary of that report (emphasis added):
- This report is a comparison between Finland and Sweden, two in many ways similar countries who applied different measures regarding schools during the covid-19 pandemic. There is no difference in the overall incidence of the laboratory confirmed covid-19 cases in the age group 1-19 years in the two countries and the number of laboratory confirmed cases does not fluctuate with school closure or change in testing policy in Finland. In Sweden, the number of laboratory confirmed cases is affected by change in testing policy. Severe covid-19 disease as measured in ICU admittance is very rare in both countries in this age group and no deaths were reported. Outbreak investigations in Finland has not shown children to be contributing much in terms of transmission and in Sweden a report comparing risk of covid-19 in different professions, showed no increased risk for teachers. In conclusion, closure or not of schools had no measurable direct impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school-aged children in Finland or Sweden. The negative effects of closing schoolsmust be weighed against the positive indirect effects it might have on the mitigation of the covid-19 pandemic.
There's a lot that we Americans can learn from other countries' experiences with COVID-19. As far as schools are concerned, the lesson is: there's absolutely no reason why schools should be closed when other businesses and institutions are open. On the contrary, since schools are both essential to our well-being and relatively safe, schools should be the last institutions to close and the first to reopen.