What science says about kids, COVID-19 and schools

DENVER (KDVR) — One of the biggest questions on both parents’ and pediatricians’ minds right now is: will it be safe and healthy for Colorado children to go back to in-classroom learning in a matter of weeks?

“That’s a very complicated question,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, pediatrician and pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado and a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health. “There are a lot of considerations here.”

One big consideration for doctors and schools is what science and research shows about the coronavirus and children.

“Right now, it does appear that children are both less likely to get infected than adults and less likely to spread that infection than adults,” O’Leary said. “I can say that today. I might be wrong about that tomorrow. We’re learning about this all the time”

Case in point: in Colorado, about four percent of young people (newborns to 19 year-olds) have been hospitalized with COVID-19. For those 20 and older, it’s closer to 15 percent.

“Perhaps the most important question to return to schools is, what’s the likelihood of children bringing the virus to school and infecting teachers, staff members in the school who are at higher risk for a severe disease?” said O’Leary.

No one can say for sure.

But doctors have said if students can keep their distance, wear face coverings and not go to school when they’re sick, it will definitely help. It’ll also help if schools have specific plans in place for cleaning and for handling students who test positive for COVID-19.

“There are many things a school can do to make it as safe as possible. Is it going to make it a zero risk? Absolutely not,” said Dr. Reginald Washington, chief medical officer at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Washington said it’s extremely important for schools and school districts to watch what happens with coronavirus cases in their communities. That could dictate which schools stay open and close.

“I don’t think there’s one answer that fits all communities,” Washington said. “Obviously, if COVID is not prevalent in one community, (it’s) going to be different than if the increase of COVID is present (in another community).”