Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta breaks down why he refuses to send his kids to in-person classes
With a failed or, better yet, lack of response toward the novel coronavirus, the Trump administration continues to ignore the severity of the pandemic as the numbers of individuals affected by it increase daily. Instead of taking active measures to control the virus, Donald Trump has been pushing schools to open nationwide, but not without consequences. According to data compiled by The New York Times, more than 5 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19.
As schools open to in-person learning nationwide, hundreds of students and staff have fallen victim to the pandemic. In Georgia, after just one week of being open, a school mandated more than 800 people including students and staff to quarantine. Explaining why not sending his children back to school is a difficult but crucial decision, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta shared his insight in a personal essay Wednesday. “It is true that children are far less likely to get sick from Covid-19, as compared to adults, but they are by no means immune. They can become infected and they can spread it quickly,” Gupta wrote.
Gupta acknowledged the limited information available on how the coronavirus is spread by children, safety precautions available in school, the risk it presents to teachers and families, and the number of cases in an area as reasons why his daughters will not currently go back to school. Gupta’s decision follows a number of states announcing that their academic school year will begin remotely this fall. In his residential state of Georgia, as schools reopened, a high number of cases followed suit. “As a father of three teen and preteen girls, this has been a constant discussion in our household, and it hasn't been easy. My girls want to go back to school, and they are placing enormous pressure on us parents to make it so. They miss their friends, the social structure and the immersion in humanity that kids need and crave at this age. Virtual learning has played an important role for them, but it is not a substitute for in-person learning, especially for younger kids,” he wrote.
He noted that while he is thankful his family has the opportunity to decide whether or not his children will attend school in-person, many families across the country may not have this option with obstacles such as access to child care, technology, and food playing a role in their decisions. The opportunity to make a decision prompted Gupta to do some research including visiting his children’s school to understand the safety precautions in place. While the school has plenty of hand hygiene stations and a mask mandate, it may face a challenge in social distancing students.
Similarly, teachers, about 84% according to NPR, have expressed that they are likely to have difficulty enforcing social distancing. Speaking of the precautions being taken by schools, Gupta said: “of course, none of this works if the students themselves aren't diligent about following these practices on buses, in hallways and in classrooms.”
In addition, while some schools have taken a step to test students and faculty, testing can be both a limited and unreliable tool. Gupta dove into what he called a “widely cited study” from South Korea that found children aged 10 to 19 were spreading the virus at the same rate as adults."In fact, they had the highest rate of COVID-19 among household contacts. Interestingly, in that same study, children younger than 10 did not account for a significant amount of viral spread," Gupta noted. He questioned the study and concluded that “the low rate of spread among young kids may not have been because they are less likely to transmit the virus, but because they have largely been home over the last few months, and had few contacts as a result.” This means that while children may not test positive for the virus now, that does not mean they are immune or will not test positive or initiate spread in the future.
It also validates the fear that children have a high chance of spreading the virus in their households if exposed at school. “As our kids become increasingly mobile, they will become part of a large national experiment, and there is little doubt the infection rates will increase. Just over the past four weeks, the number of children infected in the United States has increased by 90% to more than 380,000 cases,” Gupta said, referring to a recent analysis. In Florida alone, COVID-19 cases in children have increased by 137% within one month.
"None of this is easy, and some families may arrive at a different conclusion after looking at the same data," Gupta said. "In the age of COVID-19, it seems we are all forced to become amateur epidemiologists, while also being the best parents we can be." Gupta also cited recent statistics from Georgia on the spread of the virus among children as schools and summer camps reopen. He noted that in one Georgia school, six students and three faculty members became infected after the school opened, causing it to reclose. “Their plan is to reopen after disinfecting the school, though it is not clear how much of a difference that will make, as there is no mask requirement -- and a single sneeze or cough could once again contaminate a classroom,” Gupta said.
Teachers across the country are pleading for schools to remain closed amid the pandemic. If a renowned doctor like Sanjay Gupta isn’t willing to send his children to school—who is?