The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is pushing to get schools back to in-person learning as fast as possible.
Dr. Robert R. Redfield is the Director of the CDC, and has become one of the faces of the United States response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At times he and his organization have sent mixed signals about what the US should be doing to combat the virus outbreak. But on reopening schools across the country, Dr. Redfield sounds pretty clear.
During a recent webinar with The Buck Institute, Dr. Redfield had some clear concerns about the risks of keeping schools closed this year due to COVID-19. Here are some of the major quotes from the CDC Director:
“I happen to balance the risk here. It’s not risk of school openings versus public health. It’s public health versus public health. And I’m of the point of view, and I weigh that equation as an individual that has 11 grandchildren, that the greater risk is actually to the nation to keep these schools closed.”
The risks that the CDC Director describes are actually in many forms. Including risks we’ve already witnessed in the Shreveport and Bossier areas curing the school closures in the Spring. Here are the surface risks the CDC Director sees:
“You know, a lot of kids get their mental health services, over 7 million, in school. A lot of people get food and nutrition in schools. Schools are really important in terms of mandatory reporting sexual and child abuse. Obviously, the socialization is important. And, obviously, for some kids, I think actually a majority of kids, their learning in a face-to-face school is the most effective method of teaching.”
But there’s a far more deadly issue that the CDC Director brought up for students. Dr. Redfield pointed to the increased numbers in suicides among students, and the relation to COVID-19:
“But there has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools. We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID. So this is why I keep coming back for the overall social being of individuals, is let’s all work together and find out how we can find common ground to get these schools open in a way that people are comfortable and their safe.”
Dr. Redfield spent a lot of time in the webinar talking about the risk management in reopening schools. By explaining all of the issues with keeping schools closed, including food safety, distance learning struggles, and suicide risk among high school students, it creates a balance to consider against the impact of the virus on children. Which is something he addressed directly as well. The CDC Director broke down the risk of COVID-19 among school children:
“I think it is important to try to be factual as we go through this. When we look at, right now, the mortality of this particular COVID virus, in the first almost 218,000 people we looked at February to July, there was 52 individuals under the age of 18. And if I recollect, about 35 were actually school age. Some of them were younger than school age. We’re looking critically at those individuals. And, you know, clearly, there’s an increase in comorbidities related to significant medical conditions that we already […unintelligible…]. But I think that’s important because what that means, actually, is the risk per 100,000, so far, you know, into the outbreak, six months into it, is, in fact, that we’re looking at about .1 per 100,000. So another way to say that, it’s one in a million. Now, I’m not trying to belittle that, I’m just trying to make sure we look at it proportional. Because if you do the same thing for influenza deaths for school-age children over the last five years, they’re anywhere from five to 10 times greater. So I want people to understand the risk properly as they make that decision. And, obviously, influenza, we also benefit from having therapy and a vaccine. So I don’t want people to overestimate the risk of serious illness to individuals that are school age.”
With minimal dangers for students from COVID-19, and the increasing concerns around student suicide, food safety, and other critical issues, its easy to see why the CDC Director would be pushing to open schools.