Something’s Not Right: Schools – Maria Rivera

By Maria Rivero Caps

Care to guess what children are doing in Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Sweden? Going to school. Without masks.

And look what’s happening on the mainland in states like Florida, Georgia, and Indiana – kids are going to school, playing sports, and marching in bands.

How can this be? Aren’t kids superspreading COVID, dooming us all?

No.

Although COVID causes flu-like symptoms and appears to have the overall mortality of a severe flu season, COVID differs from influenza in some very important – and fortunate – ways:

Children are at virtually no risk from COVID. According to the CDC, deaths due to flu in children aged 0-17 were 477 in 2019 , and 643 in 2018. So far there have been 93 COVID deaths in children under 18 years of age. Flu is much more dangerous to kids than COVID. Look at Sweden, where daycares and primary schools remained open without masks throughout the pandemic. Out of 1.8 million children there were 8 hospitalizations and ZERO deaths.

Children spread COVID much less than adults. This is surprising since children commonly spread colds and flu; however multiple studies all confirm that kids just don’t spread COVID well. This evidence comes from all over the world, including Ireland, Singapore, France, Rhode Island, and Iceland. Most COVID infections are spread in the home and by adults.

Schools do not increase COVID rates in the community. European countries that re-opened schools back in May found no increase in COVID infections. Now that private schools and some public schools all over the U.S. have been open, we have further evidence that schools do NOT increase the spread of COVID in the community. If COVID levels are high in the community, it is inevitable that cases pop up in schools, but schools are not driving the infection rate.

This is great news. It means schools can open and provide children with in-person education, time with friends, and other valuable experiences. It means parents can work without the burden of arranging childcare or homeschooling.

So why are so many schools still closed/online? It’s not to protect kids. It’s not to protect teachers, either. Sweden found that teachers were COVID positive at the same rate as other working adults. Denmark also sees no increased rates of COVID for teachers. Teaching is an essential job – if grocery clerks, postal workers and government employees can work, so can teachers. In any job, those at high risk need protection. This may involve changing duties, working from home, or taking a sabbatical.

What about keeping our kupuna safe? Unlike children, the elderly are at very high risk from COVID, and many homes in Hawai’i are multi-generational. Risks to the elderly come mainly from the adults with whom they are in close contact for prolonged times. Keeping children home from school does not reduce these risks. Closing schools harms children, limits their potential, and places high demands on the rest of the family. Until enough immunity is built up in the population, we must take real measures to both shield and strengthen our kupuna. This would include getting outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, good ventilation of indoor spaces, and vitamins and minerals to increase resistance to disease. Protective measures should be directed at the vulnerable and their caregivers rather than spread out (and watered down) among those at low risk. Those who argue that this is difficult ignore the obvious: our current situation is doing great harm to all ages, and is failing to focus efforts where they are most likely to save lives.

Could it be that some schools are closed for political reasons? That certainly seems to be a concern in some places on the mainland. Are we allowing our keiki to be used as a political weapon? I hope not.

My view is that schools remain closed/online due to fear promoted by irresponsible media coverage, as well as a lack of awareness of what has been learned over the past eight months. In our natural desire to protect our loved ones, fear and ignorance have led to bad decisions. Let’s do better.

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