The idea of keeping schools closed in the fall because of safety concerns for children might be “a bit of a reach,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
In a phone interview with CNN Wednesday, Fauci noted that children tend to have milder symptoms or even no symptoms when they are infected with Covid-19.
What’s not yet clear is whether children get infected as frequently as adults, and whether they often pass the infection on to others. Ultimately, he said, the decision to reopen schools needs to be predicated on the level of infection in each community.
In the past academic school year, 48 states recommended schools close through the rest of the year as coronavirus began its rapid spread.
Some, including schools in Montana and Idaho, opened their doors again for a few weeks before the academic school year finished with the thought of gaining experience in reopening that could be used in the fall.
“I hesitate to make any broad statements about whether it is or is not quote ‘safe’ for kids to come back to school,” Fauci told CNN.
“When you talk about children going back to school and their safety, it really depends on the level of viral activity, and the particular area that you’re talking about. What happens all too often, understandably, but sometimes misleadingly, is that we talk about the country as a whole in a unidimensional way.”
Fauci seemed to think that keeping schools closed in general was not necessary.
“Children can get infected, so, yes, so you’ve got to be careful,” Fauci said. “You got to be careful for them and you got to be careful that they may not spread it. Now, to make an extrapolation that you shouldn’t open schools, I think is a bit of a reach.”
Fauci said it’s not premature to start the conversation about reopening schools now. “I think we need to discuss the pros and the cons of bringing kids back to school in September,” he said.
Stressing the importance of not generalizing, Fauci laid out the spectrum of scenarios for what a return to school in the fall could look like.
“In some situations there will be no problem for children to go back to school,” he said. “In others, you may need to do some modifications. You know, modifications could be breaking up the class so you don’t have a crowded classroom, maybe half in the morning, half in the afternoon, having children doing alternate schedules. There’s a whole bunch of things that one can do.”
Talking about classroom layouts specifically, Fauci underscored the need to “be creative” and create plans based on the degree of infection in the community.
He suggested that one option is to space out children at every other desk, or every third desk in order to maintain proper social distancing.
Study underway on how Covid-19 affects children
Fauci said the same type of creativity would need to be applied to how students get to and from school.
While the conversation about how schools can safely reopen continues, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, launched a study last month to examine further how Covid-19 affects children.
The study will follow 6,000 people, both children and their families, chosen from 11 cities over the course of six months, to get further clarification on whether children are less likely to catch coronavirus than adults.
“We don’t know that for absolutely certain right now,” Fauci said.
Fauci said his team will likely not see results from the study until December.