If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this, I’d buy a new pair of Rothy’s…or a bottle of Silver Oak. This seems to be the million dollar question right now and it is impossible to answer. So…my short answer is “I have no effing idea.”
In medicine we try to make informed decision based on years of data synthesis, facts and case studies, but in the case of Covid, we just don’t have enough information to fully understand the best and safest way to proceed. We are trying to figure out who wins the marathon and we have only seen the first few minutes of the race. And furthermore, it is impossible and irresponsible to try to make a blanket policy for how EVERYONE should proceed.
Sure we have some anecdotal evidence and some weaker studies on how Sars-CoV-19 is spread when it comes to kids. By and large, we don’t have overwhelming evidence that kids are super-spreaders, for example, daycare facilities that have remained open during the pandemic haven’t become epicenters for huge outbreaks (though there have certainly been cases of little ones getting sick). But then we turn around and hear about a camp near the Ozarks with 80 some odd campers and staff infected. And we are hearing about more and more high school and college sports teams getting sidelined because of outbreaks.
A few weeks ago the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement encouraging in-person school (Woot!). But then a couple of weeks later, they came out with a little less optimistic take on the situation (Wait, what?). Our collective, masked, heads are spinning.
I am a member of multiple online physician groups and the question of “Should I send my kids back to school?” comes up just as much as it does in the non-medical community. And the responses and advice are mixed. Just the other day on the radio, one of my Infectious Disease colleagues suggested that he would feel safe sending his kids back to school. Then a good friend who is a pediatrician voiced her worry that it might not be a good idea. Who do we listen to? How do we make this decision?
Here’s the thing. There is no right or wrong answer because THERE IS NO GOOD ANSWER. I’m overwhelmingly convinced that all of our options thoroughly suck right now. And this will probably be the case “until all this birus is over” as Annie likes to say. We are all going to have to make this decision on an individual and family basis after weighing our own personal situations and options. What is right for me and my family might make absolutely zero sense for my friend in Florida, or even the family next door. In considering our options, there are infinite variables to consider.
We can’t make a blanket recommendation for in-person school because EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL is different. Every community is different. Every family is different. If you live in a small town with few to no cases of Covid and everyone is vigilant about hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing, then I’d feel pretty comfortable going back to school. If you live in a hot spot with a bunch of people who don’t give a flying F about mask wearing and distancing and who are getting together for Covid parties, I’d be less enthusiastic….and I would probably move. Keep in mind that this is the most fluid of all situations and what might have been a seemingly low risk environment one day might become high risk the next. Unfortunately we can’t control the families of the kids who will be sitting “six feet” from yours in school. Did little Johnny just come back from vacation in Florida with 20 of his cousins and forget to tell anyone? Does Louisa’s mom work in a hospital and was she unknowingly exposed to a Covid patient? The scenarios are infinite.
What are your school’s policies to try and keep everyone safe? Is everyone going to wear a mask? Are classes staying isolated from each other? How are they going to ensure that kids keep their distance from each other? Do they have access to force fields that will repel the kids from one another if they get within six feet?
A dear friend of mine who is an elementary school teacher lamented the following:
“If I have a class of 10 kids, how do I monitor 60 feet of kids?”
“5, 6 and 7 year olds eat pencils and use glue sticks as chapstick…”
“What happens if a teacher gets sick? Make sub plans for two weeks for a sub that might not show up? Then does the whole classroom quarantine?”
“How do I comfort a six year old from six feet?”
It should be painfully apparent to all of us that even with the best plans, the best intentions, and the best, most compliant students and teachers, masking consistently and slathered in hand-sanitizer, there is no fool proof plan. Someone is going to get sick. Will it be an older teacher who is on the verge of retirement? A student with asthma? An otherwise healthy janitor who takes it home to his wife who has cancer?
While there are very real and very significant risks to opening schools back up, I do recognize that for some kids, school is their lifeline. For some, it is their only access to a balanced meal or a safe, nurturing environment. For others being around actual peers is critical for their social and educational development. For some families, the thought being in the same house together for one. more. minute is unfathomable.
If doing school at home is simply not an option because of work responsibilities or other commitments, then you are going to have to send your kids back to school. It is what it is, and you will receive zero judgement from me. For those who chose to, or simply have to send their kids back to school, you are going to have to commit to be even more diligent about cleanliness, hand washing and mask wearing. You are going to have to think about who is in your circle and maybe avoid those who might be higher risk for complications of Covid.
Initially we were hopeful (so…so hopeful) that our kids would go back to school in the fall, but as the summer has progressed, we’ve decided that we are probably going to keep them home. This is not the most pleasant decision that we have ever made, but here are our reasons (which I will reference in September when we are banging our heads into the wall):
#1 This is a realistic option for us. Danny has been a stay at home dad for several years now, so having the kids home will not cause too much upheaval in our daily lives. (Danny might argue). Additionally, his degree is in elementary education, so we are in probably the most ideal situation for such a scenario.
#2 Our kids have been pretty okay with being home. They definitely miss their friends and teachers, but we are pretty sure that they will continue to cope and function while learning from home. If they can stay off of TikTok for a hot second.
#3 My 84 year old grandma is a mainstay in our lives. When we were all initially hard-core quarantining, the only time we saw her was when she drove over and interacted with the kids from her car. It became apparent that she was suffering physically and emotionally and after we relaxed our isolation from her she began to thrive again. So, for our kids to continue spending time with GG, it will be best that they avoid going to school where they might pick up some germs and unwittingly bring them back to her.
#4 Some families don’t have the option to stay home. Because we do, we feel that it is our responsibility to free up space in the school building for kids who absolutely have to be there.
As stated above, there are infinitely more variables that impact the understanding of Covid, the spread of Covid and the decisions we make as we consider how to move forward in this pandemic. Each family will need to weigh their own situation and consider the benefits and risks of physically walking back into a school building. For us, in this moment, it is apparent that the risk outweighs the benefit.