To keep kids healthy, keep them in class learning
School closures were a mistake, writes Joseph G. Allen, an associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A public-health scientist and a father of three school-age children, he proposes new Covid-19 policies that prioritize keeping students in class and making school look and feel normal.
"The way to do this is to get rid of excessive quarantine and isolation policies, and to rely on the protective power of vaccines and prior infections, with masking reserved as a strategy to get kids back in the classroom quicker after they’ve been sick," Allen writes.
The risk to children's health from missing school is far greater than the risk of getting Covid, Allen argues. Parents can make the very low medical risks even lower by opting for vaccination.
Covid death rates for adults have fallen, especially for the vaccinated and boosted, writes Allen. We have effective treatments for high-risk individuals. "On top of all this, the combination of prior infection and vaccination has led to an estimated 95 percent of American adults having an immune system that has seen the virus."
"Schools should never have closed and should never close again," Allen writes.
Ventilation and filtration should continue to be key focuses. These measures operate in the background and don’t require behavior changes, and they provide multiple benefits beyond preventing the spread of Covid.
Testing should be used only to diagnose whether a child with symptoms has Covid, he writes.
Quarantining should end. We shouldn’t have kids miss school because they are close contacts of someone who had Covid. This practice is disruptive, has forced entire classrooms to miss two weeks of school unnecessarily and led to increased rates of “chronic absenteeism.”
Students who have symptoms should stay home, Allen recommends. But once they're symptom-free, they can return to school if they wear an N95 mask for 10 days since the start of symptoms. "One-way masking works," he writes. And they get kids back in class quickly.
There's no need to ban talking in the lunchroom, limit extracurriculars or separate students with plexiglass, he writes.
Few schools will require masking this school year, reports Jessica Blake on Chalkbeat. Only 15 percent required masks by the end of the last school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and the number has "dwindled to just a handful." Many districts have "scaled-back or scrapped COVID testing programs and quarantine rules" as well.
As of July 27, only 37 percent of 5 to 11 year olds have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, she reports. That rises to 69 percent for 12 to 17 year olds.