Health and Science

Infectious disease experts warn against reopening schools in Florida, Texas and other states where coronavirus cases are surging

Key Points
  • Members of a leading group of infectious disease experts warned Thursday against reopening schools in states where coronavirus cases are surging, saying older children are just as likely to spread Covid-19 as adults. 
  • "The simple answer is no," Dr. Tina Tan of Northwestern University said when asked whether she would suggest reopening schools in states such as Florida, Texas, California and Arizona in the near future. 
  • "Schools are a microcosm of their communities. They don't operate in a vacuum," said Dr. Wendy Armstrong of Emory University School of Medicine. "And so in order for schools to open safely, communities' spread must be controlled and must not be explosive." 
Children in an elementary school class wear masks and sit as desks spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Members of a leading group of infectious disease experts warned Thursday against reopening schools in Florida, Texas and other states where coronavirus cases are surging, saying older children are just as likely to spread Covid-19 as adults. 

"The simple answer is no," Dr. Tina Tan, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, said when asked whether she would suggest reopening schools in states such as Florida, Texas, California and Arizona in the near future. 

"When you have such surges of disease in the community, you're basically asking for trouble if you open schools, because you're bringing in individuals from all across the community that potentially may be exposed to it," Tan said on a conference call hosted by the Infectious Disease Society of America.

States in the American South and West have reported weeks of climbing Covid-19 cases. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said officials are "monitoring and aggressively acting to control the infection in Texas, Arizona, California, Florida."

"Sections of the country come up that we didn't anticipate, for instance, Florida, Texas, etc., but we're working with very talented people, very brilliant people, and it's all going to work out," Trump said at the press briefing. 

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state reported a record number of additional new cases and a positivity rate, or the number of positive cases out of total tests performed, at around 7.4% over the last 14 days, a number that "continues to go up modestly." 

"It's imperative that people pay attention to what the rate of infection is in the community because that's going to drive whether or not it's safe to open schools," Tan said.

Before reopening, all schools must have plans in advance in case a student tests positive for Covid-19, and they should consider when to close if the outbreak worsens, said Dr. Wendy Armstrong, a professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and a board member of the group.

"Schools are a microcosm of their communities. They don't operate in a vacuum," Armstrong said. "And so in order for schools to open safely, communities' spread must be controlled and must not be explosive." 

While some studies have shown that children appear less likely to be infected with Covid-19 than adults, others have shown they can carry the same amount of the virus, Armstrong said. 

She said a recently published study in South Korea indicated that although kids under the age of 9 were less likely than adults to transmit the virus to their families, teenagers were at least as likely to transmit the disease as adults.

Armstrong noted countries such as Denmark and Norway allowed the youngest children to return to school first before older children, but she added that the virus was better contained in those countries. 

"Ultimately, the community needs to be responsible for its own health," Armstrong said. "As an adult infectious disease doctor, again, I can't reinforce enough that adults need to do the right thing in order to conserve our most precious resource, which is our children." 

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