After a summer of uncertainty about whether it was safe to reopen schools, several school districts in the U.S. resumed with in-person learning at the beginning of August. Already, students have begun to test positive for the coronavirus, proving once again that COVID-19 is in schools and that kids can be infected with it.
As more schools across the country plan to reopen in the next few weeks—including schools in New York City, the nation’s largest school district—more than 97,000 children contracted COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. CBS News reported that 338,000 children have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic.
Analysts are watching public schools in the U.S. closely to see if they follow Israel’s path to a failed reopening, a decision that led to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Alternatively, officials remain hopeful that the U.S. could follow suit with Norway and Denmark, two countries that successfully reopened schools in May without seeing a rise in cases.
The New York Times reported that in-person learning resumed in Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia—and quarantines followed shortly afterward. Despite taking precautions like spreading out desks, dividing students into smaller classroom sizes, and enforcing strict distancing protocols in the cafeteria, schools in every state that have attempted to open schools in-person have had students get infected with the virus. Most of these schools have not enforced a mask mandate.
In Georgia, North Paulding High School made headline news shortly after its opening when a student shared troubling photos of packed hallways of maskless students in between classes. CNN reported the same high school has temporarily moved to online learning after six students and three teachers tested positive for COVID-19.
The letter to parents from the Paulding County Schools superintendent explained that the high school will close for two days so that the school can be “thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.” According to CNN, the district also plans to partner with the Georgia Department of Public Health to do contact tracing during that time. But on Aug. 13, it was reported that there were 35 confirmed student cases of COVID-19.
A few days later after the photo went viral, another metro Atlanta school district had major coronavirus problems when it was reported that 826 students and 42 teachers in the Cherokee County system had to quarantine after only six days of school. Families were offered a choice of in-person schooling or virtual learning in Cherokee County, and 77% of families chose to send their students to school in person. On Aug. 17, it was reported that, in Mississippi, more than 2,000 students and nearly 600 teachers had been placed into quarantine.
On Aug. 25, it was reported that about 9,000 students in Florida had tested positive only two weeks into the school year.
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN that disinfecting schools is not enough to curb the spread of the virus.
“The virus isn’t being transmitted by the school, it’s being transmitted by the people who attend the school,” Reiner said. “It’s in the community. Disinfecting the school isn’t going to have a big impact.”
COVID-19 is in schools, but Trump still wants them reopened
The federal government continues to support schools reopening. President Donald Trump incorrectly said in an interview with Fox News in early August that kids are “almost immune” to the novel coronavirus. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement about the importance of reopening America’s schools this fall. In it, the CDC emphasized the belief that kids are affected less by the virus than adults.
“Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults,” the CDC said. “At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”
The largest experiment with in-person learning during a pandemic is yet to come: New York City school districts will resume in September. So far, Mayor Bill DeBlasio and health officials say the city is ready to reopen and “have worked incessantly to get this right,” according to CBS News.
More education coronavirus news:
- What’s a homeschool pod, and can it provide better education for kids?
- Potential school reopenings during the pandemic leave teachers frightened
- Are parents comfortable sending their children to school in the fall?
- Here’s how many lives were saved by the decision to close schools last spring?
- Will the coronavirus kill off the SAT and ACT?
- Kids are missing school during the pandemic—what consequences will there be?