To reopen schools in the fall as safely as possible, communities need to suppress the spread of COVID-19 this summer while preparing a rigorous public health response to outbreak flares, public health and education experts said in a commentary published yesterday in JAMA. Joshua Sharfstein, MD, and Christopher Morphew, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said that while it’s unclear whether school closures this spring tamped demand for hospital beds, it is clear that they harmed many of the 55 million kids missing months of in-person education and the other benefits it entails. When schools close, children’s access to school-based food, health services, counseling, and social services is cut off. Also, many families lack home computers and internet service, which form the basis of distance learning. The effects will likely be most profound among students already at risk, those with learning disabilities, and those subject to abuse and neglect, the authors said. For these reasons, schools must reopen in the fall—even if it involves hybrid online and in-person instruction or sporadic returns to an all-remote format, they said, offering a six-part framework to do it safely and lower the risk of having to close again because of another pandemic wave in the fall or winter. Yet they emphasized that opening schools is not without risk, particularly with reports of an uncommon but serious pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19. “The best way to avoid a replay of the widespread closures is to control the pandemic more effectively in the future,” they wrote. “Every community should implement a rigorous program of testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.”

 

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