COVID19 life Parenting

Day 73: School is Important

May 27, 2020

Risk vs Benefit.

We make those calculations every single day. But from what I’ve read, it does not seem like humans are very good at calculating risk. We are biased by what is featured in the media, by what our friends talk about, and probably by a million other things.

Earlier in the pandemic, I definitely felt like “OMG NO ONE IS DOING ENOUGH!”. It felt like there was a significant slice of people who didn’t think that COVID-19 was really anything. I think 100K deaths have convinced most people that it’s real and has impacted many many lives — of the infected and otherwise.

BUT BUT BUT. Life is not black/white. Nor are choices, or risks. I admit sometimes I fall into that partisan line of thinking, but I do think having some medical background helps with this one. Mostly because I can get a sense of proportion by looking at number of cases in my own backyard. The media can be having a bonanza about Kawasaki-like syndrome, and YES it is sad that any child has been afflicted.

BUT. The numbers. They are relatively low. We have had a low number of Kawasaki-like admissions at our hospital recently. You know what else we’ve had? New cancer diagnoses. Near drownings. Car accidents. But no one is talking about those things.

Every time you get in a car, you take a risk. Every time your kids play in the pool, there is a risk. But we don’t think about these things because they are just accepted as normal. I’m not sure most have done the formal calculation comparing the benefits of children attending school (for example) vs risks of a car accident along the way — yet I don’t think most people worry much about this particular risk.

I’d love a comprehensive calculator that compares COVID-19 related risks to other risks out there – lightning strikes, cancer diagnoses, car crashes, etc. I feel like this is something COVID-explained could come up with, but there may not be enough data yet. Maybe someday, though.

We are not sending the kids to camp this summer, but my reasons are more about a) the logistics of “socially distanced camp” sounding stressful and just . . . a lot and b) I am worried it will be cancelled (or made “virtual”) and I will be out $$$. Also, there are some other annoying things about camp (all 3 wouldn’t be at the same one; drop off/pickup can be frustrating and it’s typically in terrible weather many afternoons; the atmosphere at the one we sent the kids to last year seemed a little chaotic– though the kids did like it).

With all of these factors PLUS the $9K or so we save by not sending 3 kids to camp this summer — well, that is why we are sitting out this year.

But I am fervently hoping that the calculations for school are different. If school opened tomorrow, I would send A&C. (Again, not sure about G because risk/benefit looks different for toddlers. The “benefit” of her school experience to me as a 2.5 year old seems more uncertain. The benefit to my bigger kids is very clear.) SHOULD the school system maintain some virtual learning options for those uncomfortable attending in person? Yes! FL actually has their own “virtual school” that is open to all so maybe that could be an option for those with reasons for avoiding contact (and I absolutely acknowledge there are those out there where risks DO outweigh benefits due to certain medical challenges among family members).

I guess I am also just disappointed with the lack of weight/thinking put into childcare availability in general. It is not something discussed much at work, though the challenges of those of us with children vs without are incredibly different (moreso than under usual circumstances). I suspect Laura is right – it’s because most people in charge of creating policies don’t have to OR want to think about childcare. They are either out of touch or they just think parents (let’s face it, mothers) should all be readily available to “homeschool.” And it is lame.

Okay, off my soapbox for the day.

In other news, my spice drawer is organized.



  • Reply Grateful Kae May 27, 2020 at 6:36 am

    We would send our kids back to school too. I agree with what you have said- it is a calculated risk and I think in this cases, the benefit to them is great. My competitive swimmer son is actually going to to the gym today for the first time to lap swim (1 to a lane) and next week my boys are returning to youth conditioning classes at our gym too (<5 per class, many new modifications in place by gym staff to ensure safety and social distancing). They just really need some structure and with the quite low numbers and spread rate in our area, we are comfortable with this plan.

    I think about the car accident thing a lot too. Even before this whole COVID thing, I had wondered why no one really seems to "care" or too concerned about the staggering number of people who are killed each year in auto accidents. I wonder if it is just a) something we are used too and b) something that "feels" like it's "in our control" (even though it certainly is NOT always…. (i.e.- if you drive safely, your odds of a crash "should" be lower, therefore people probably feel more like "it won't happen to me".) I think anytime there is a more "random" killer, if you will, it takes the panic to a new level.

  • Reply Gillian May 27, 2020 at 7:09 am

    Yes! In speaking to another mother I actually looked up the 2018-2019 flu data. In that moderately severe flu season with a relatively effective vaccine 477 children diet in the U.S. The mortality rate for flu in that season (again with a vaccine) in kids 4 and under was 1.5%. And yet school closures were never discussed. I think many people have lost sight of the purpose of what in NY is called “The Pause.” The purpose of all our current measures including school closures was to flatten the curve and relieve pressure on the healthcare system, not get rid of COVID-19. My kids aren’t out of school yet and don’t go back until September but I desperately hope they go back to school. I would happily send them to school and camp immediately. Have them all at home all the time is stressing our household immensely. It is also stressing my kids. Big sigh …off my soap box now.

    • Reply A. May 27, 2020 at 8:49 am

      The fear is that children are vectors, that they pass it on to parents and grandparents and to educators and teachers who are in the higher risk groups (age or health condition). Those are the people we are protecting right now. Not the children in the first place, right? Children are resilient, they will be ok. Covid is not just about who is dying, the %, it is also the aftereffects if you get over it (kidney, neurological, etc.), not the same than with a strong flu, no?

      • Reply Gillian May 27, 2020 at 9:42 am

        I fully understand that. There are many parents out there that are fearful of sending their children back to school. But my point is just we are only talking about the risks of COVID and not talking about any risks of no physical school. School is THE #1 source of childcare in this country–I am a physician and I rely on school as a huge piece of our childcare. How am I supposed to do my job without that? Children get much more than an education at school. They are not learning social skills and making friends on zoom (My kids have grown to HATE zoom). Teachers can’t as accurately assess for learning and social issues remotely. In many places including NYC poor children are fed at school. Special needs children cannot often not get effective therapies virtually. Many kids are not participating in the distance learning that is offered. Everyone says kids will catch up, but the most at risk kids won’t necessarily EVER recover from this. These are all valid reasons to send kids to school.

        Many children and teachers are not in a high risk group and don’t live with anyone in a high risk group. It is also not clear that children ARE vectors, the jury is out on that. And again, the purpose of shutting down was NOT to get rid of this virus, it was to relieve pressure on the healthcare system.

        • Reply A. May 28, 2020 at 9:03 am

          Yes I agree with everything. We agree. I love school, I know its values, I have studied until my 30s and I am still working in academia. Where I live, essential workers still have access to childcare, in fact, my 4 yo school is now an « emergency school/childcare » for doctors/nurses and other e.w. Maybe it is not the same in the US. I personally haven’t seen any regression in my son’s behaviour, I actually find him more autonomous, his language has improved, he’s in a good mood 90% of the time… so maybe the context makes me see things differently. And he has one zoom a week and loves it. But we are not stressed, we have flexible jobs (=academia), it helps I suppose. And privilege, and environment play big roles.

          • Gillian May 28, 2020 at 9:34 am

            In NY we only have access to childcare if both parents are essential workers which puts a lot of pressure on the “nonessential” parent. Plus in our area emergency care is only for 5-12 year olds, 2 of my 4 children would not qualify (one is too young, one is too old). They also aren’t helping kids with remote schooling. It really sounds like a Lord of the Flies free for all.

    • Reply Natalie May 27, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      I completely agree, Gillian!

      The options are not binary: we don’t have to chose between “hide under a rock until herd immunity is reached/a vaccine is available” vs. “let’s open everything up and ignore the fact that the virus is still circulating.” With widespread testing and identification of positive cases, banning mass gatherings like concerts and sporting events, continued social distancing when appropriate, we CAN move back to opening schools. It might be a hybrid online and in-person model, but for everyone’s mental health (parents and kids) as well as allowing parents to get back to work, schools need to reopen this fall.

      • Reply Kate May 28, 2020 at 11:42 am

        Great point, both!

  • Reply Lou May 27, 2020 at 7:10 am

    Could not agree more with all of this statement Sarah! Well said, and I wish everyone, internationally and locally, could try and see the ‘bigger picture’. I’m an Ed Dr mum to 3 in the UK and have had the following ‘fixed rant’ for weeks now – ‘there’s the unknown risk of covid to kids (probably minimal) and the risk to teaching staff (which is less than the risk to me and my team, and we haven’t stopped going to work, but yes, it’s there). But there’s the also not fully understood but I’m CONVINCED much greater risk to children of psychological and educational harm from no school!’
    Even to the ‘privileged’ kids like mine. Especially to those from families with financial or other challenges. Mine are now back in school but that’s justified as ‘keyworker’ kids. There is so much parental and staff anxiety about the government’s plans to get kids back in school here in the UK though. Which I think is the understandable fallout from the government tactic of terrifying everyone re covid in late March, at lockdown time, to get people to stay home and do what they were told. It’s tricky…

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 7:31 am

      I didn’t address those who are less privileged in this post, but YES – the risk/benefit calculation for school vs home has to be even more clear for most families who do not have the resources we do. Very important point.

    • Reply Kate May 27, 2020 at 8:19 am

      I agree but what about the risk to the households of those children who will now be coming into contact with many more households via their school class, especially if those households have a differing approach to the necessity of social distancing and other preventative measures? I worry about the possibility of a second spike especially with the clear dsiregard to social distancing that is happening at the moment in the UK.

  • Reply Heather May 27, 2020 at 7:23 am

    We will send both kids (pre-K and 3rd) back to school in the fall unless there is a massive shutdown due to an increase in cases. A coworker is convinced there will be a “second wave” and has already chosen to take his kids out of school. Of course, his wife stays at home so she can “teach” them. My kids are depressed and stressed out and desperately need interaction with peers (age + gender difference in my house means they don’t get that from each other). My husband and I are depressed and stressed out from not having childcare. We are in a suburban area of a major city so the cases in our community are not nothing but we’d send them to camp tomorrow if it was allowed to open. At this point, the benefits to resuming those activities, even with the changes that are in place, outweigh the risks.

  • Reply Jess May 27, 2020 at 7:27 am

    Yes, you are totally and absolute right about school and that it is very important although most politicians seem to think that women can homeschool their kids while having to work from home and do all the housework. And – the priviledged have childcare while the less priviledged have to do it all. I am very sad about this and it makes me angry. And although I am home with our Baby (in Germany we get 12 month of partly paid parental leave) and our five-year-old I feel that my daugther needs school, her Friends and being away from home since it has been too long already and I am tired of being the sole caretaker.

    And I also think that life is risky per se and Covid-19 is now another risk added to a very long list for things we can die prematurely from. And it is exactly like you said – we also have new Cancer diagnoses, near drownings, car accidents and people get harmed.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 7:32 am

      same in the US except without the working from home part. I honestly think many of our politicians are still imagining most families the way they were >50 years ago.

  • Reply chelseamcatmath May 27, 2020 at 7:39 am

    I think decision makers can also be swayed by bad data on what parents “want”. We just had an informal poll here where a majority of parents who responded said they wanted school to be either hybrid online or fully online. This is for parents who already send their children to public school, not people predisposed to homeschooling. BUT 1. Response bias – I doubt parents who are really struggling with lack of child care were as likely to respond as those who have the resources to better cope. 2. It didn’t in any way make the parents confront the fact that wanting your kid to be home for whatever reason means someone has to take care of said kid. We live in probably one of the top 10% most affluent school zones in our area (in Central Florida) and many, many of the families have two five-figure wage earners. Affordable (public school with inexpensive wrap around care) childcare is what makes that possible. I think more parents *will* send their kids back if schools re-open even if they have a vague distaste for it (not talking about people with kids who are truly at risk).

    I really want my kids – all 3 – to go back to school. I really, really wish an early start were on the table. The oldest two are still signed up for a couple summer camps that are small and seem to be running with reasonable precautions, which we are planning for them to attend.

    BTW – the one camp we were signed up for that went virtual had no problem refunding us.

  • Reply Sarah May 27, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Totally agree with your point about school as childcare! I am a NP and work 4 days/week. My husband has a slightly more flexible engineer job and was able to partly work from home this spring and summer (his company allowed that for employees with child care needs). We hired a high schooler to watch them 2 days a week over the summer. And I feel like we are surviving for now. The thought of no school all fall is…rough. I have been telling my husband all along that there isn’t enough discussion among the powers in charge about child care. We are lucky to be able to barely make it work but people with less income or less flexible jobs may not be able to as easily. I have considered i might need to cut back at work more but worry about my career trajectory then. My husband is a great dad and values my career (and we are equal earners) but I don’t think that idea would ever cross his mind.

  • Reply Sophia May 27, 2020 at 7:54 am

    I agree that the absolute risks are low for kids and that I would 100% send my kids to school if it reopened this fall (and I hope it does!). However, the risk to teachers, custodians and other school staff is concerning. Admittedly NYC is it’s own case, but there have been multiple deaths and ICU admits of school staff old and young and it is the lobbying of the teachers union, threats of strikes etc that ultimately led to school closures in the city. Obviously not all school staff are unionized and they have certainly died of numerous other causes during this time so the absolute numbers of harm from COVID aren’t *that* bad. That said, the numbers are worse for those who are lower income and have less power to say no so it doesn’t feel right to make others accept higher risks either. I honestly don’t know what the answer is because the current situation is not tenable for working families. We have 3 kids similar ages to yours with 2 remote learning in a 2 bedroom apt and 2 parents doing a combination of work from home and from work with declines in productivity and sanity. It’s been extremely challenging and were are actively looking to get out of the city to get more space.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 8:26 am

      That is a good point. Esp older teachers/staff or those with medical issues.

      Then again, our office is mostly open and that includes staff. Maybe the services we provide are more essential but I guess I feel like school had been treated as less essential than it really is for most people.

  • Reply Aly May 27, 2020 at 8:29 am

    Agree on the calculated risk we must take. Thank you. Many, many people use summer camps as childcare. I think it’s worth acknowledging another reason you might be foregoing camps this summer is that you do have a caretaker for your kids available.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 9:44 am

      Yes 100%

  • Reply Jessica May 27, 2020 at 8:46 am

    I don’t know what the solution is. We obviously need childcare options if the economy is going to get moving/people are going to go back to work.

    On an individual level, I do worry a bit about my mom. Next school year is supposed to be her last year teaching before she retires. She can’t really retire yet, so she has no choice but to go if they have school and she is older and lives with my dad who is older than her.

    As for my kids, I am not worried about them and would send them to school. However, do we know the public health implications of that? I’m hoping we know more by the fall. If kids spread it at the same rate as adults, I don’t see how schools will stop the spread if a child attends and has Covid19. My oldest will be in high school. How can schools with 2000 plus kids, who go to different classes with different kids, hope to not pass it on? And my youngest will be in 2nd grade. There is no way those kids will keep their germs to themselves. So, while I don’t worry about the kids, I do worry about them getting it at school and spreading it throughout the community.

    I know there are risks in life, but generally we try to mitigate those risks. We bolt furniture to the wall, manufacture cars with enhanced safety features, redesign roads where accidents occur, put fences around swimming pools, etc. I guess with Covid19 it seems like the choice is stay home or exponential spread. Hopefully people beyond my pay grade can figure out a workable solution to school that allows kids to attend and has safety measures in place that make it safer.

    • Reply Amy May 27, 2020 at 10:38 am

      It is a major issue to me that no one in senior leadership (that I’m aware of) at my company has their workday interrupted to breastfeed or wipe someone’s butt. They are choosing to remain oblivious and it has really soured my perspective on being able to be a working parent. I feel like I’m being edged out and I don’t like it.

  • Reply Rebekah May 27, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Love the spice drawer – it calms me down just looking at it!

  • Reply Canuck May 27, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Our province in Canada has a female Chief Medical Officer of Health with young school-aged children. She was very reluctant to close down schools, and did so after most other provinces had, and only after she received a lot of pressure from the school boards in our province. The school boards basically said they didn’t have the capacity to manage the risks to students and staff (cleaning, protocols, etc). The day she announced it, she was very much aware of the impact it had on students and parents. So I guess what I would say is, there are definitely people making these decisions who are both aware of, and impacted by, the decisions.

  • Reply GL May 27, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Thank you for pointing out the medical issues still presenting at your hospital. We’ve had two family cancer diagnoses this year. One finished treatment before this and the other’s treatment has been delayed and complicated because of COVID.

  • Reply Heather May 27, 2020 at 9:11 am

    I would say, from the outset, my response is skewed because I am childless and have no interest in children.

    From a teacher perspective, we face A LOT of pressure not to take sick leave. I teach in a non union state and there is nothing protecting us from the whim of our administration and local governments. So, this causes a lot of teachers to continue teaching while sick. If you have used all of your sick days due to pregnancy or when your own children are sick, all of the sick days that you take turn into unpaid days. In my state, teachers don’t make much, so it becomes hard for some teachers to make ends meet. I’m young, fit, and in good health, so I would go back to work. However, I fear for my coworkers who have underlying conditions and whether or not they would be able to continue to work.

    To me, the car accident metaphor is bunk. You can’t really prevent car accidents (outside of airbags, seatbelts and driving cautiously); however, there are steps you can take to prevent COVID like closing schools, wearing masks etc.

    Luckily, I don’t have to make any of these decisions about closing or opening.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns May 27, 2020 at 9:13 am

    We wrestled with the decision about whether to send our son back to daycare since I am higher risk due to immune suppressant drugs for RA (although i’m on the “miracle” drug hydroxycloriquin that Trump continues to talk about even though there is NO proof it does any good and more proof that it’s damagint to patients… but I digress). We kept him home for 7 weeks and I ended up doing about 80% of the child care when my husband was home as he has a strong preference for me and 100% on the 2-3 days/week my husband has to go into his office. It took a major toll on my mental health and I began to worry it was impacting my job performance, too. So we decided to send him back a little over 3 weeks ago and he is so much happier there! That said, we did find out our daycare had its first covid came among the staff – it’s a teacher in another room so probably not a huge risk our son gets it, but there is a risk. But we can’t keep him home forever and our house is not set up to hire a nanny with me working from home in our dining room… So we have to take the risks and hope to God we all stay healthy. But this means we have to be extra extra careful about social distancing since we have no idea what our son is exposed to and could pass along to others. It’s really tough as that means we likely won’t be able to see my parents this summer unless we can all get tested. They just opened some testing sites to anyone, but last weekend there was a line of 500 people so I need the lines to shorten before I can consider standing in one with a 2yo!

  • Reply Anu May 27, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Yes, 100% agree with your post. The discussion around childcare and schools has been really frustrating for me in a urban suburb of Boston, where most families are two-career couples. As you said, it does seem like everyone is imagining a world that existed in the US (if at all) more than 50 years ago. And that parents (read:mothers) will just manage somehow. Already I can see my friends and acquaintances in the moms’ groups I belong to downshifting their careers, trying to figure out if they can make use of the CARES act leave, go part-time, basically twisting themselves into pretzels because the government and society has placed them in an impossible situation.

    Your points about risks and how we calculate them are well-taken. I’ve pointed out that regular flu poses more risk to children at the moment (and always caveating that with obviously COVID is not equal to the flu for older people) but the scary news articles about Kawasaki like syndrome drown that out. I get it, it’s new, and scary, and no one wants to be part of that statistic. But it does inhibit rational decision making, both among parents and policy makers. I understand people being wary of the risk to teachers and others involved in childcare, but there’s also some research out there that indicates that children seem to get milder cases, have less viral load and are less infectious in general (unlike for the regular flu, which I think is where people get their priors from). Could we not learn from places where daycares and schools never closed? I know that in Seattle daycares never closed, and from what I understand, it hasn’t been a huge problem.

    I also think about the full calculation of risk when considering other decisions that people make. I was recently reading an online discussion about someone moving from Boston to San Diego. The consensus was that they should drive, camping as much as possible, eating takeout food etc. On the face of it, that seems like the obvious choice, vis-a-vis taking a plane. But we should remember that doing a cross-country car trip is vastly more dangerous in non-COVID times because of the risk of a car accident, particularly if you’re sleepy or tired. Planes are also seen as hotspots for the virus, because we think of a plane as the same as a large enclosed room. But in reality there’s a big difference – the air in a plane is completely exchanged with the outside every few minutes, and also passed through powerful filters about half a dozen times an hour that are more effective than the filters used in N95 masks. In fact, the biggest dangers on a flight are from the people sitting right next to you. See this post for more:

    Anyway the jury is probably still out on the above, but I think it’s at least a closer calculation than most people think, if you fully account for all the risks, rather than only focusing on the most salient ones.

  • Reply Brooke May 27, 2020 at 9:45 am

    I’m in Seattle, and our local daycare has closed twice since reopening for outbreaks – 8 kids this last time from what I hear. I desperately want schools to start, but I also feel that stability and knowing what to expect is better for myself and my kids – not start and stop. At the end of the day, lacking clear data, I think (most of) our elected officials are making the best guesses on the risk/reward. Part of it is also human behavior – if we open this up, what 10 other things are people going to do? And how do we keep the curve below the hospital capacity line? It’s a fine line between riding that line and spiking way above it. I don’t know what the right answer is.

    • Reply Anu May 27, 2020 at 9:54 am

      That’s interesting – I hadn’t heard about daycares closing due to outbreaks. Can you tell me more? Did they test for COVID among the kids?

      • Reply Kristi May 27, 2020 at 10:52 am

        My nephew goes to a daycare that is currently closed due to an outbreak. He also tested positive last week. This was a daycare that was only open for essential workers. It started with a teacher had a positive test, at which point they took extra measures only for that classroom and I believe closed it. My nephew was in a different classroom, but a few days later a child in his class tested positive, so he was sent home and told to monitor for fever. Which they did, and he has had for over a week now. They were not doing any routine monitoring at the school, but each family was told to isolate and monitor on their own. Now only 10 days later the count is up to over 20 cases (kids and teachers). Thankfully it seems the children’s cases are fairly mild.

  • Reply gwinne May 27, 2020 at 10:03 am

    I agree with the general question here, Sarah, about risk calculation.

    I will not be sending my kid to any sort of camp for exactly the reasons you mention. But school is a different issue. I’m seeing real effects–mental and physical health, beyond education–in my household from kids not attending school. That will get worse. Not to mention the loss of my ability to do my job.

    I’m not worried about my kid getting COVID. I am worried about the larger issue of spread within the community. I worry if I send my kid to school he won’t be able to see his grandmother who lives in another state, for example. That’s a major loss, too….

  • Reply Jen May 27, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Such an important discussion! thank you for saying out loud what many parents might feel guilty about saying but can we just work at home and take care of our kids full-time for months on end – when the initial lock-downs happened it was for a few weeks. But at 10-12 (whatever the number is now) weeks we need real options and thoughtful approaches on how do this. We have to live and our kids need more engagement. I don’t think many suggest just opening as it was … but staying this way doesn’t work either and it seems no one is willing to talk about it.
    Plus, parental burn out is real. And as more places begin to open other work places the idea that one parent must try to work with the kids at home becomes even harder. Yes, some have been doing it all along – i have one co-worker with an OT/PT wife who works in a hospital. His workload hasn’t changed. Nothwithstanding understanding managers – the work still needs to get done. My husband has a colleague with husband who is a cop working long shifts. Parental burnout is real and their (our?) health is at risk too.

  • Reply Katie May 27, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Yeah, I’m not sure about school for us. I have a rising 3rd grader who is off treatment for high risk neuroblastoma. He has adrenal insufficiency and takes daily meds (3× day) for hypertension (likely due to his endocrine meds). He had a stomach bug that landed him in the hospital for 3 nights last year (where his sibs were sick for like 18 hours).

    He also has an older brother on the autism spectrum who has really struggled with distance learning.

    I work full-time in finance. Our nanny is back (without her for 7 weeks i nearly had a nervous breakdown).

    I am jealous of families that “get” to consider getting back to some sort of normal.

  • Reply katefin May 27, 2020 at 11:02 am

    It’s so striking to me that many European countries are prioritizing school reopening and here this fundamental decision is barely mentioned in press conferences. At least the experience of those European countries which have restarted schools will be a data point in making U.S. decisions about fall reopenings – are there outbreaks as a result of children being together at school (as distinct from individual teachers or students getting covid-19 from another source – the real unanswered question is are children spreading it)?

    I totally agree that individual human risk assessment ability is a terrible way to make an extraordinarily consequential decision like whether to reopen schools. As other commenters mentioned, those with the least resources will be worst affected and it is is pretty wild to think this decision might be made by default/out of fear, not using data.

    An interesting early medical perspective here: “Modeling studies seem to indicate that school closure can be significantly effective for infection control only when the outbreaks are due to viruses with low transmissibility and attack rates are higher in children than in adults. This applies to influenza viruses and influenza infection but does not seem valid for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, which have different transmission dynamics, or for COVID-19, which affects mainly adults and elderly individuals.”

  • Reply CNM May 27, 2020 at 11:23 am

    We have decided not to send our 7 year old to camp this summer because I am not at all confident that any camp will still be open and we have been managing it OK so far. We have instead decided to engineer our own sort of camp by combining a virtual project (Brain Chase), doing play dates with his cousin who is also 7, and allowing outdoor play with neighborhood kids. This way, he can finally get some in-person kid playing time while still limiting the number of people he is in contact with.

  • Reply Sarah Jedd May 27, 2020 at 11:36 am

    As much as i would LIKE to send all 4 of my kids (high school, junior high, and 2 elementary kids) to school in the fall (because I will be home with an infant and teaching online for my university), in my calculation, the reward is just for me, really, and the risk is all to them. I can’t make the math work any other way.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 11:44 am

      Honestly I have full time childcare so no, I don’t feel that I want the kids in school for “me”. In fact from a pure convenience perspective it’d be easier to keep them home. But I feel they would be better off in school. The risks — medically speaking — to children are quite low.

  • Reply Noemi May 27, 2020 at 11:36 am

    I appreciate you writing this so much. At one point I wrote a post about concerns over the long-term economic impact of prolonged shelter in place, and how I wasn’t personally afraid for myself or my family to get COVID (even though I understand the risks to the larger population and follow the restrictions that have been put – and still are in place here in California) and I also mentioned my risks for getting in a car accident (especially since I put 18000 miles on my car every year commuting) and I was accused of being Trump-aligned on my blog. And I understand that anyone can have an adverse effect, even healthy young people, but the number of people with those those outcomes are so low compared to the number of people who actually contract the virus (the number of which we can’t know because so many people are asymptomatic and we still have not built up adequate testing protocols). I also understand that our lack of information and understanding about the virus leads public health officials to be cautious. But I think the adverse effects of prolonged economic shut down are very real as well. 250 million people will face starvation this year (globally). That number terrifies me more than COVID. It’s unfortunate that the current political landscape has made it so certain views are considered partisan now.

    I’ve read a couple of articles saying that data (from the US and internationally) suggest closing / reopening schools did not affect community spread much, if at all. I wonder if there will be data of that data definitive enough to support returning to school in a more expanded capacity in the fall. My guess is no, which is really unfortunate because I think returning to the classroom is incredibly important, and I’m a teacher!

    But the real crisis of public education that is coming is budget related. As the state and federal budgets implode, public school budgets will get hit the hardest. SF’s public school system is facing an 80 million dolllar deficit just next year. We all need to be paying more attention to that piece of the public education crisis, otherwise when officials say we can go back, there won’t be a public education system to go back to.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 11:55 am

      The budget crisis is absolutely terrifying from what I have read about it.

  • Reply Ana May 27, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    I don’t know the right answer from a public health perspective. I don’t think anyone does. I wish I could say “good thing there are smarter people making these decisions” like some said above, but…I don’t think there ARE smarter people making these decisions! The decisions are being made willy nilly, driven by politics and the whims of whoever is in charge. That’s why people won’t feel safe even when they are given the evidence by the authorities that certain things are safe—they’ve been lied to and don’t know who to believe anymore. I get it. Its infuriating and frightening.

    I’m just shocked that school is just not being discussed as a priority or essential service. Why are we talking about beauty salons and vacation resorts before we talk about a place were ALL CHILDREN aged 5-18 spend the majority of their days and receive not only education, but socialization, food, services (speech/OT/ASD/etc.) and even medical care (the ones that only get their insulin M-F because of the school nurse, for example). The uncertainty about school is a large part of my anxiety around this. And YES to Noemi’s point about the budget crisis. The longer we stay out of school the less it will be seen as a budget priority, too.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 27, 2020 at 1:46 pm

      Wonder if average a1c will be up or down post covid. And study interaction w social factors. I’m honestly not sure but it’s an interesting question.

  • Reply Theresa May 27, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    As a teacher I have been closely following the CDC and state guidelines for reopening and suggest you read them too. They are really going to change school especially high school if followed and be really costly at a time of budget cuts and layoffs. If not followed schools open themselves up to so much liability. I did not enjoy distance teaching and would personally like to go back but I want everyone to be clear we will not go back as normal. For example my daughters preschool already announced reducing recess and getting rid of extended day.

  • Reply Mommy Attorney May 27, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    I think we will see women’s career advancements set back significantly because of CV-19. I have a confluence of life and CV-19 circumstances pushing me away from my career and into HSing, and it kind of boggles my mind that we arrived in this place. But distance learning has been pretty awful (I get that it’s crisis schooling) and there aren’t a lot of signs that much is being done to try to make it better. I’m very curious to see how things play out in countries that have re-opened schools, since there is a strong suspicion that kids are key spreaders of the virus. Ugh. If only there were a reliable vaccine.

  • Reply Sarah May 27, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    According to the WSJ Editorial Board: “But as a society we also need to keep in mind that the risks to children from the coronavirus are small, especially relative to others. The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity projects that children under 15 are 6.83 to 20.07 times more likely to die of the flu or pneumonia than coronavirus—assuming 150,000 Covid-19 fatalities in the U.S. this year—and 128 times more likely to die of an accident.”

    I really hope there are serious moves to reopen schools for in-person learning. The costs to most families are too much to bear to keep children home. So many people are suffering in silence. The risk-cost benefit analysis must be done in earnest, with a full eye to what is truly being sacrificed and what is being gained.

  • Reply Coco May 27, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    while working at home with kids is CHALLENGING, i don’t see any other way. during this time, even if there’s childcare option run by others, would I send them there? I doubt it. I can’t ensure the caretakers take care of themselves, respect social distancing and all. I even don’t want my helper to come to work as they commute and go back home and be in contact with others. So I guess, given the difference in preferences among parents (which this time could be even more different than normal times), policymakers stop trying to please everyone. Since most of people are staying at home, it’s better just keep the kids at home too, and nobody would be reliable.
    just my two cents.

  • Reply Another Sarah May 27, 2020 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you! Here in Illinois Phase 3, which we enter on Friday, allows non-essential businesses to open but not daycare! My husband will likely be called back to work in the coming weeks while I’m WFH through the year. We’re figuring it out between a high-schooler and college student but barely.

    • Reply Amy May 28, 2020 at 10:55 am

      Daycares are opening in phase 3. I live in Chicago and everyone I know got the email this week from their daycare saying June 1st they are open, just FYI!

      • Reply Katie May 28, 2020 at 3:52 pm

        Same here! We live in Chicago, and we send our kids to two different preschools/daycare. We received emails from both places today outlining their plans for reopening. We haven’t decided when our kids will return. We are both working from home, but my husband will probably return to work in ~2 weeks. I am not worried about them getting the virus, I’m worried about them transmitting it. We haven’t seen our families since March (they live 5+ hours away), and I’d love to see my parents sometime this summer with no fear of getting them sick.

  • Reply Kathleen May 27, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    I live in a suburban community in Texas. Even though online school was problematic, I am not looking forward to a summer of nothing. Yes, we are going to have to implement routines but the days are going to be long without access to sports, camps and swimming etc. I would love to hear a podcast episode on suggestions of things to do for children of all ages. I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments. It helps hearing other perspectives (bonus–no yelling or name calling). I also like to hear where people are from as I think that influences your point of view.

    • Reply Grateful Kae May 27, 2020 at 6:43 pm

      Agree! That would be a great podcast episode and I’d love to hear that too. Anything about managing the long days of summer without the usual “activities”. In my case, I still have to work from home during that time (flexibly, but still) and I am also worried about the kids doing too much “nothing”. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to deal with enforcing the schedules, etc…and while some free play time/ video games/ etc are fine, sometimes it gets to be a bit much.

      BTW, I am from Wisconsin. 🙂

    • Reply CNM May 28, 2020 at 10:29 am

      I don’t know how old your kids are, but I signed up my rising 3rd grader for Brain Chase. ( We’ve never done it before, but it looks like a fun way to keep daily learning going. Brain Chase looks like it is geared toward elementary-aged kids.

  • Reply Irene May 27, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    I am just hoping that anything that reopens has realistic expectations for what kinds of precautions they can expect kids to follow/be ok with. Expecting kindergarteners to wear a a mask and stay 6 feet away from each other for a whole day is just…not going to go well. I would rather keep my daughter home in the fall than have her anxious about getting in trouble and hearing about germs I think kids are able to tolerate different levels of this and my kid is not able to tolerate much, especially after seeing her life shut down for months already.

    I basically break into hives whenever I think about the fall because there is just no way to know what it’s really going to look like and how what ever is planned gets implemented. I heard recently that the camp we are registered for is planning to open as soon as allowed (my area is still under stay at home orders) and I just don’t know that we will participate. It may not be worth it even though what we are doing now is HARD. I want to find some kind of in home child care but it’s so hard to trust people are really being responsible since this would not be a person I already know and trust. Ugh ugh ugh

    • Reply Irene May 27, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      PS I am in the greater DC area

  • Reply Ali May 27, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    YES to all this. My kids really NEED school…the learning + structure + social interactions. And I NEED school because I work PT and it is my childcare. Childcare (or the lack thereof) has been a serious struggle for me. Working from home is fine, but WFH+kiddos is a struggle.

    I have been fine with sheltering in place, wearing my mask on the occasions I need to get out and buy groceries, etc but it seems like there is a real lack of understanding that we can’t all stay home forever and there needs to be an assessment of risk involved. I am lucky in that we are not high risk and I can make that call, and at this point I just hope we are able to make this call for ourselves for school this coming year.

  • Reply Alexicographer May 27, 2020 at 11:01 pm

    First time commenter and relatively new blog reader, though I knew you vaguely from Laura Vanderkam’s blog. Yes, OK, to the points about (a) we humans are lousy at assessing risks and tradeoffs; (b) we routinely accept risks, such as those associated with car travel; (c) schools/daycares being closed is a HUGE problem, and of course mostly for those already struggling in various ways. But! First of all, the “car travel” comparison (that is so common in these kinds of discussions) is really misleading in that it’s often tossed up as if it’s a tradeoff — accept the risks of car travel or the risks of COVID. But really, we’re talking about adding risk to additional risk — not only do you have to drive your kid to school and yourself to work, but now you also have to accept the risk of catching coronavirus once you’re there! (A whimsical aside — actually I’m someone who used to take the bus to work partly because I had assessed the risks and am clear that buses are much safer per mile traveled than cars — to the extent that informative data are available which, to be fair, is not much. But I certainly won’t get on a bus in the foreseeable future, so both my commuting and my COVID risk will go up as distancing goes down…).

    Anyway, major tradeoffs and I am frighteningly privileged in this space — 1 teenager (who would benefit from being back in school) and a DH who is out of the paid workforce by choice (and I am for now able to WFH with employer’s enthusiastic endorsement of same). So for us this is at most a blip in terms of household time management (though not in terms of learning and other important things school imparts) — but in considering schools and other stuff and our personal household decision making, I am looking for things like the following: (a) can every health care provider in my area access as much PPE as they need, all the time, even if there is a surge (and including those working in places like SNFs and assisted living); (b) can everyone get tested for coronavirus whenever they need a test, easily and safely; (c) do all employees (school, grocery store, nursing homes, food prep, not just the front-line but janitorial, etc.) have access to as much paid sick leave as they need; (d) can everyone who needs to isolate/quarantine because of possible or actual exposure or illness do so in a place where they are, in fact, isolated and cared for (food provided, for example) away from their unexposed/healthy families/housemates, to avoid making more people sick?

    Because here’s the thing — we *could* reduce risk and those 4 things would do a lot to achieve that (and although listed as absolutes, even improvements without getting to the levels I list would improve things). Instead we (and I live in the US Southeast, so believe me, I’m not in a “good” place in this regard) have wrung our hands and decided we just have to accept the risk. Well, yes, many Americans do, and of course to the extent that we continue to refuse (as a country) to step up and say “enough!” more and more of us will have to. But … we (collectively) don’t actually have to, we’ve just decided we’re going to. Argh.

  • Reply Lindsey May 28, 2020 at 6:36 am

    I so appreciate your perspective. We have no idea what we will do in the fall regarding schooling for our 4 year old who will be in pre-k. We may homeschool him for the year if the social distancing procedures at his preschool are extreme. Only time will tell and we will hope for the best!

  • Reply omdg May 28, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Politicians don’t want to think about childcare because fixing the problem is likely to be a) extremely expensive, b) extremely contentious, c) many (not all) solutions will likely sort themselves out if employers are willing to be flexible as they already are starting to, d) they are hoping that this won’t last forever. Sexism plays a role, but these other problems are more important.

    I want school to restart in the Fall primarily because I want my daughter to have a way to make new friends after we move, but I am cognizant that may be difficult regardless. I have to be honest, the only times I’ve gotten sick during the past 8 years have been from my daughter specifically, so I am skeptical that the schools can be opened safely with any sort of baseline community prevalence. It’s NOT just old people who have bad outcomes. Not all of us have extended family who can care for the kids if both parents need to be in the hospital, which is not a terribly unlikely scenario.

    For camp, and later school in the fall… some attendings where I work with kids who are >9 have been complaining that their stay-at-home husbands will do a bad job watching the kids and too many video games will be played, but I am having a really hard time caring about that particular plight. Safety, not enrichment, needs to be the priority for any sort of realistic public policy related to childcare to happen. We can’t be catering to rich people who are afraid that being home won’t be sufficiently enriching for their precious babies in order for this to work, and help people who actually need it. And I’m really sorry, I also have trouble empathizing with people who want group sports to restart (or who have been covertly having their kids do gymnastics practice for instance during the lockdown, because TUMBLING IS SO IMPORTANT) because their babies are going stir crazy, or who are freaking out about kindergarten. You want to kill a lot of people? Send the kids to school, expecting full time work hours, and bring in the olds to do the aftercare and sick care. Just saying.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 28, 2020 at 9:23 am

      All good points.

      I wish we had a better idea of what transmission really comes from children in group settings. I do 100% agree I am sicker than all of my colleagues w viral crap and it’s always from my kids. But somehow I was gleaning from what I read that spread among schoolchildren was not expected to be as bad or common as it is for other illnesses (like influenza). It doesn’t sound like anyone knows for sure though.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 28, 2020 at 9:26 am

      PS tumbling class at home through zoom might work … maybe ? I have a few patients continuing w intense dance training while at home, all on video. I thought that was pretty cool.

      • Reply omdg May 28, 2020 at 11:39 am

        The people I am referring to did… not do it at home. They sneaked at a gym. 🙁

        I do think Zoom karate or dance would work great at home (See: the boxing class I did two weeks ago)! Maybe basic tumbling also, but anything more advanced I worry about liability from the kids getting injured in the house.

        Please let me clarify — I agree that the risk to children themselves is low. However, the risk to the adults who care for them while they have their mild illness is NOT low. Many families utilize older relatives to care for their kiddos while they are out sick or for aftercare. The risk to them is substantial, to say nothing of the teachers and janitorial staff at schools. And families absolutely would medicate their kids or send mildly symptomatic children to school hoping to get away with it so that they would not have to call out of work sick, and that’s not even considering the issue of asymptomatic spread.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 28, 2020 at 11:48 am

          All very good points! Good clarification.

  • Reply Alyce May 28, 2020 at 11:07 am

    As someone who helps policymakers make difficult decisions like this one (though not in the realm of education, so I have not advised on reopening schools and daycares), I can 100% guarantee that the decisions being made don’t reflect the fact that “most people in charge of creating policies don’t have to OR want to think about childcare.” It’s easy to think that policymakers aren’t considering this one factor that you think is the biggest and most important facet of the issue at hand, but that just isn’t true. I can guarantee that all of these considerations of the role of schools as a source of childcare or food or medicine or social services for children have been considered (there’s a reason why they still distributed food to kids in need, and offered childcare for essential workers – it’s precisely because they are aware of these issues). The reality is that policymakers are considering sooo many different factors as they make decisions, many of which aren’t even always obvious to people who are driven by their biggest and most important issue. As we say in my office, good policy often leaves everyone at least a little bit dissatisfied. If one group of people is more pleased than another, that’s likely a sign that you went to far in one direction.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 28, 2020 at 11:59 am

      That’s a good point and valid perspective. Thank you for sharing (and so nicely too – seriously, I really mean it).

      • Reply Alyce May 28, 2020 at 2:50 pm

        Also – the government is FULL of parents (especially women) because they can be very family friendly jobs. Even in my less significantly impacted agency, we’ve been working around the clock, seven days a week for the last three months to respond to COVID-19, while also taking care of kids at home. Policymakers are intimately familiar with the need for childcare right now.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 28, 2020 at 3:15 pm

          Alyce that is really good to hear!! Again thank you.

          • Kate June 1, 2020 at 9:52 pm

            The federal government has indeed made a clear decision that they won’t be prioritizing schools reopening, through, for instance, the lack of any federal test and trace strategy and Mitch McConnell’s decision to deny federal aid to states so that can fund their schools. This is a massive policy failure, albeit at the highest level. Policy-makers further down the power structure can only do so much given that reality.

  • Reply Noemi May 28, 2020 at 11:48 am

    In relation to my previous comment here, I read this article in WaPo yesterday which mentions that we might go back to distance learning in the fall for the simple fact that schools can’t afford to open buildings when doing so safely will cost more and districts will be getting so much less funding. I agree that it will probably be the deciding factor and that is a real bummer.

  • Reply Kari June 4, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    I know this is a week old and the past week has shifted the focus of our national discussion (I live in Minneapolis, so it’s been a hell of a week) but I read this article today in JAMA and recalled your post, so thought I’d leave it here.

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