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Thomas Gallatin / Aug. 13, 2020

Shutting Schools Won't Stop COVID

Yes, children can spread coronavirus, but shuttering schools only prolongs the misery.

One way or another, children will need to get back to school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the situation has become so politicized that clear, unemotional logic has been jettisoned for sensationalism and fearmongering. The debate over opening schools epitomizes this reality.

Recall that the original purpose for the shutdown was to flatten the curve in order to prevent hospitals from becoming overrun with severely sickened patients. That goal has been achieved. Yet that goalpost was soon moved to what now amounts to an unending shutdown until a vaccine is available, a prospect that, Vladimir Putin’s boasts notwithstanding, is still at least months if not years away. Hunkering in place is economically and sociologically untenable.

Pending a vaccine, the only means to reach what we hope will be herd immunity is for the majority of people to contract the virus and develop antibodies. And those who will be least impacted by contracting the virus happen to be children and younger adults.

Given those facts, the argument for stalling the full reopening of schools has centered on the likelihood that children will spread the virus to vulnerable older adults. Initial reports indicated that children did not spread the virus to adults, though that was never going to remain true. Indeed, newer data appears to show that children are just as susceptible to contracting and transmitting the virus as are adults. That said, we shouldn’t be locking down the least likely segment of the population to succumb to the virus, hampering their future development by retarding their education and their parents’ ability to work.

Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds was asked a fearmongering and sensationalizing question over whether sending kids to school was “worth it” if “an older teacher were to die from this.” Reynolds pointedly responded:

It would be naive for us to think that at no point we’re not going to see positive cases in school districts. … But we also have to think about the whole child, and everything. We have to think about their livelihoods as well. I mean, I’ve got moms that are trying to work full-time and figure out what they’re going to do with the kids and a schedule that’s Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday one week, and it’s Tuesday and Thursday the next. How do you start to put together some stability with those kinds of arrangements? And parents that are really fearful, they have the option to do … 100% online learning. … I have grandchildren that are going back to school. I would never do anything that would put them in harm’s way intentionally. I don’t think any of us would. I have a daughter who’s a teacher in a public school system, who’s teaching this summer and she’s expecting.

Exactly. Life is never lived in certainty but is always a series of decisions based upon risk assessments. Every time someone gets into a vehicle to drive to work or the store is a risk that may end his or her life. And that is merely one of an almost innumerable number of risks people face every day. The vast majority of Americans will not die from the coronavirus, but the fact also remains that all Americans will die of something at some point. Death cannot be avoided, though we’re fortunate to live in a society where the majority of us can expect to live long lives. In any case, shuttering schools in a feckless attempt to prevent the spread of a virus that is most dangerous to the elderly is doing more damage to children than good.

(Visit our comprehensive CV19 Pandemic response and recovery page to review our comprehensive timeline on government and political actions related to the pandemic, and see our related pages.

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