The only way to ensure zero cases of Covid-19 in schools is to keep them closed for the next year, but this is not acceptable when looking at the other risks faced by children kept at home, an environmental health expert said Wednesday.
It’s better to take steps to make school safer and keep children and teens safe and engaged, said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and the director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.
“I make the argument that the cost of keeping kids at home is devastating, and there are proven exposure and risk reduction strategies that can minimize risk for both children and adults,” Allen told a conference call.
“So when we have this discussion about kids going back to school, we’d have to put it in the contexts of the massive individual and societal costs to keeping kids at home.”
Children at home can face physical health problems, such as being more sedentary. Plus, kids often rely on school meals. Mental health problems, often worsened by a lack of social interaction and connection, are also a problem.
And many students are not getting much out of online classes, Allen said. “We now have virtual dropout, take Boston for example, where 20% of the kids in May didn’t log into class,” he said. “Philadelphia has a similar issue where only 50% of the elementary school kids were making daily contact.”
He also highlighted concerns from UNICEF that children at home during a lockdown are at greater risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.
Allen and colleagues published a report Wednesday that outlined risk reduction strategies for schools to reopen.