An AFLDS Issue Brief for Parents, Policymaker and Physicians
STATEMENT OF POSITION America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) agrees with assessments offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and both the Trump and Biden administrations that K-12 schools should resume in-person instruction. The medical evidence is clear: Less than 1% of teachers and students have been infected in schools that have reopened. Children learn best when they are educated in the physical environment of the classroom. Moreover, the rise in suicides, depression, anxiety, and other mental-health crises in districts across the country makes safe school reopening not only an educational imperative but a medical emergency.AFLDS condemns the actions by several metropolitan teachers unions to use reopenings as a bargaining chip for step increases in wages or unrelated political goals. Threatening strikes and locking schools down during the pandemic is not a course backed by science. Schoolchildren deserve government officials and public workers that will follow the COVID-19 science and base decisions on the best available evidence. We are recommending that states and localities immediately take steps to provide universal classroom instruction for every family that wants it.
SOUND SCIENCE IS ON THE SIDE OF RETURNING TO THE CLASSROOM The evidence is very consistent that children are at extremely low risk of becoming seriously ill or dying as a result of COVID-19. According to the AAP and the Children’s Hospital Association, approximately “1.6% of children with a known case of COVID-19 have been hospitalized and 0.01% have died.” Compare these health outcomes to the CDC’s study of the over-25 cohort, in which 16.6% needed hospitalization and 5.0% died. Numbers provided by the Human Mortality Database actually show a drop of approximately 2,000 childhood deaths in 2020 despite the pandemic. And, according to the World Health Organization’s global findings, “in most infections of COVID-19 cases reported in children, infection was acquired at home,” with “most” in-school infections spreading staff to staff.Schoolchildren participating in classroom instruction this fall have not been a significant source of transmission. In Chicago, where public teachers union members are striking, parochial and secular private schools have been open for months without significant COVID-19 spread.
ENTRENCHED SPECIAL INTERESTS ARE THE CHIEF OBSTACLE TO SAFE REOPENING The science is unequivocal that open schools pose no undue risk to children, adults, or the community at large. It has been known for many months that children have almost no risk of death from COVID-19 and that they are not a common vector for transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.Extended remote and hybrid learning is not popular among Americans with school-age children. According to one Gallup poll, school satisfaction dropped 10 percentage points last year. By contrast, in district after district, teachers’ unions have presented themselves as obstacles to necessary reforms, most recently related to the timely reopening of public schools for in-person instruction.Whether the decision comes through the local school district, city hall or the state legislature, AFLDS recommends giving parents and physicians a greater voice in determining public policy surrounding schools’ response to the pandemic.
SCHOOL CLOSURES HAVE DONE MORE HARM THAN GOOD The increase in depression, opioid abuse, suicide, and other pathologies among our nation’s young people, whose lives have been hijacked, is well-documented. The CDC found mental-health-related emergency department visits among children 18 and younger began rising in April 2020 – the start of general lockdowns in many US states. “Beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health–related ED visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24%. and 31%, respectively,” the federal agency observed.Youth sports – a critical social activity for many children and young people – have been disrupted by the policy responses to COVID-19, magnifying existing behavioral health challenges. In its study “An Overview of the Sport-Related Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children,” the international Centre for Sport and Human Rights found: “The restriction of sports participation may therefore have a detrimental impact to young people’s mental health and well-being, with periods of inactivity; isolation from athletic teams; distance from the athletic community; less qualified interactions with athletic coaches; and lack of social support having been shown to cause emotional distress and psychological disorders in athletes.”One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’ve “seriously” considered suicide in the past month because of the pandemic, according to CDC figures. Research demonstrates that social isolation and loneliness can make these conditions even worse.
LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES OF CONTINUED CLOSURESThe CDC is correct in its findings. In-person instruction should resume during the pandemic. The educational and psychological toll on schoolchildren outweighs the (exceedingly small) risks involved.The long-term consequences of forced school closures are likelier to affect the less privileged, communities of color and other marginalized groups the longer they drag on. These students will fall behind, requiring additional instruction and potentially more mental-health services in already strapped districts. The time for action is now.