The scientists who want kids back in school

A major reason schools are reluctant to reopen isn’t just the potential danger to children, but also that to the teachers and parents whom students might infect. Just how likely children are to transmit the virus is still an area of debate, and the stakes are high: If kids are found to pass the virus easily, even though they rarely show symptoms, they might become major spreaders of coronavirus to their communities. According to Nuzzo, and some studies, there’s little evidence that infected kids are as contagious as infected adults. However, Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, believes that opening up schools and day cares would be risky, pointing to other studies suggesting that kids might indeed serve as vectors, passing the virus onto others in their family as they do with stomach bugs and sniffles. “I haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me that children are less involved in the transmission of COVID-19,” Shaman told me in an email.

Most summer camps have likely already decided whether to open this year. But to the reopening crowd, the call on camp is even easier, since research suggests that the virus is not transmitted as easily outdoors as it is indoors. If camps avoid crowded indoor bunks and dining halls, as well as the potentially contagious toilet clouds in the bathrooms, campers might not have much to worry about. “It’s logical that schools should open in the fall and summer camps, if it’s still possible, should open,” Daniel Halperin, an adjunct professor of public health at the University of North Carolina, told me. “I’m worried about my daughter driving, but I wouldn’t keep her home because there’s a one-out-of-a-million chance that she’s gonna die in a car accident.”

I pointed out to Halperin that Israel recently reopened schools and then promptly had to close them again when the virus ripped through classrooms. Four children in Israel have developed COVID-19 related heart problems. Halperin seemed unfazed. After all, those infections are cases, he said. Given how rare COVID-19 deaths are in children, “what’s the likelihood that would actually lead to one death in a child?”

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