Other American observers are adamant that the United States ought to make a different calculation of the society-wide impact of school closures, even when virus spread is high. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and editor of the journal JAMA Pediatrics, has just published a paper that estimates 5.53 million years of life could be lost as a result of school closures in the United States.

The calculation is based on research showing that missing months of school lowers a child’s chances of graduating high school. Lower educational attainment, in turn, is well established to lower life expectancy because people with less education are more likely to smoke, more likely to drink heavily, more likely to suffer from heart disease, and more likely to perform more hazardous work, among other reasons.

“When you frame it in terms of school versus lives, it becomes a no-brainer,” says Christakis. “And everybody says, ‘Well, we can’t send kids to school if it’s going to cost lives.’ But in fact, not sending kids to school also costs lives.”