Whether or not kids should go back to school during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a hot topic with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. This includes expert public health opinions on both sides of the issue, so it’s not as if all the public health professionals support one side over the other. This is not an easy issue with easy answers. There are a lot of factors to consider concerning kids going back to school, including if kids are significant sources of transmission of the coronavirus to each other, to their teachers, and to their families. We also need to consider the health of teachers and the possibility of teachers transmitting the coronavirus among each other and to their families. There are a lot of older teachers, a higher risk group, so the question of whether extra precautions should be taken for them needs to be addressed. There’s the issue of transportation. Will kids more easily transmit the Coronavirus on school buses, where it’d be difficult to social distance? Will social distancing or mask-wearing be mandatory in schools, and if so, what will that look like?
Economic factors are also a consideration. Some parents want their kids to go back to school, because they have to work. This is especially true for single-parent households. Parents are wondering how they will educate their kids from home and work at the same time? And if their kids don’t go back to school, how will that impact their work schedule and income? People are already struggling financially due to the Coronavirus, so this would be an added stress.
There is also the private schools vs the public schools debate. A lot of private schools are planning to go back to school, and there seems to be more of a question around public schools. This makes sense, because private schools are usually smaller and more manageable, but if private schools go back while public schools do not, what does this mean for ensuring each child gets a good education? It turns into a “Have vs Have Nots” dilemma pretty quickly. Not every private school is set to go back. Some have already delayed reopening, but this has led to even more issues. For instance, I’ve heard many parents complain that they don’t want to pay full tuition if their kids don’t go back to school. They say school is expensive and it doesn’t seem fair that they have to pay full tuition if they are educating their kids from home.
Then there’s the question of kids going back to school on a normal schedule and what to do if a coronavirus outbreak occurs. Will the schools close? For how long? What will that look like?
Like I said, not an easy issue at all.
I’ve been wanting to do a podcast on this topic for a while, and I was lucky to find the best guest for it: Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson. I stumbled across a paper he wrote in May’2020 related to this topic, titled Children are unlikely to be the main drivers of the COVID-19 pandemic. It made a strong case for kids going back to school during the Coronavirus. Dr. Ludvigsson is both a pediatrician and epidemiologist in Sweden, the country that didn’t close down at all during the pandemic and did things very differently than we did. In fact, Sweden kept all of their schools open, so they are not having the contentious debate we are having over whether or not to go back to school. Kids are going back to school, without question. Folks in Sweden aren’t even required to wear masks, so I was excited to chat with Dr. Ludvigsson about his opinion on Sweden’s approach vs our approach. Dr. Ludvigsson was also the chairman of the Swedish Epidemiological Association between 2011 and 2014, and from 2014 to 2016, he was the chair of the Swedish Society of Pediatrics. He has done extensive research in the area of pediatrics, including setting up the first national gastrointestinal pathology register. He is an honorary professor at Columbia University School of Medicine in New York City and at Nottingham University School of Medicine in the UK. He’s on the editiorial board of the European Journal of Epidemiology and in 2019, he was named the staff pediatrician for the Swedish Television Station TV4.
You can listen to my Causes or Cures podcast with Dr. Ludvisson here. I brought up the paper he wrote in May’2020 and asked him if he still agrees that kids are not the drivers of the Coronavirus pandemic and if he thinks it’s safe for both students and teachers to go back to school. I also asked him about face masks, taking the bus to and from school and older teachers who may be at a higher risk. We talk about Sweden’s approach vs the US’s approach. He makes a lot of excellent points regarding the risk for both students and teachers and he also makes an excellent comparison between the coronavirus and influenza that I think is worth everyone hearing. Anyhow, hope you listen, subscribe and share with folks who are concerned about this topic. On a personal note, I’m also happy he’s a Swedish doctor and epidemiologist, because the coronavirus pandemic has become uber politicialized. I often find it hard to filter out the politics from the pandemic, so it’s nice to chat with someone in a different country who doesn’t have a political motive either way. I’ve done a few other podcasts related to the Coronavirus that are worth listening to. One is related to COVID-19 and our risk of strokes, and the other is with an epidemiologist in Hong Kong on when it’s worth wearing a face mask and when it’s not. I also did a podcast by myself on the inconsistency in public health messaging and how that relates to political bias, industry bias and how people will respond to public health advice and a future vaccine.
Thanks guys. Stay in touch, check out the shop, find me on Instagram. While I don’t respond to all the emails I get, nor do I see all of them, I do try to respond and read all of my Instagram comments. Also, reach out to your friends. This is a really stressful time for everyone, and a really lonely time for many. Reach out and make someone’s day. 🙂