Experts available to comment on reopening schools

During the past two weeks, provincial governments have been announcing plans to bring students back to school in September.

Western University experts Dr. Michael Silverman and Dr. Saverio Stranges, co-authors of “Ethics of COVID-19 related school closures,” a commentary published this week in the Canadian Journal of Public Health are available to media for comment.

They point out the long-term risks associated with school exclusion outweigh the COVID-19 risks among children.

“Children younger than 10 years of age have a relatively low risk of infection, with much milder symptoms, as compared to adults. At the moment we do not have consistent evidence to support the fact that young children are epidemiologically significant in community-wide viral spread,” said Dr. Stranges. “What has become more obvious is the potential negative implications of social isolation of children in terms of developmental and cognitive outcomes in this critical stage of their development.”

A rapid systematic review found very limited evidence of school closures having any impact on coronavirus outbreaks in other countries, however, the authors point out data does show that children being kept at home have a higher risk of short-term complications of anxiety and depression, increased screen time and a greater risk of physical abuse. The commentary highlights that especially for younger children, long-term risks have been reported which include poorer performance on intelligence, cognitive skills, and standardized tests; higher incidences of teen pregnancy and illicit drug use; lower graduation rates; lower employment rates and lower annual median earnings; higher arrest rates and higher incidences of hypertension, diabetes, and depression. The authors contend these risks need serious consideration within any decision to reduce school availability.

“The data suggests transmission rates are low for children aged 10 and under, and these are the children that have the most trouble with online learning,” said Dr. Silverman. “The stereotype that children are just germ-spreading machines goes back to influenza, but we know now that COVID-19 is very different than influenza when it comes to kids.”

Dr. Michael Silverman is the city-wide Chair/Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and London’s academic teaching hospitals, London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and is an Associate Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. Dr. Stranges is the Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and studies the epidemiology of chronic and infectious disease.

Commentary reflects the perspective and scholarly interest of Western faculty members and is not an articulation of official University policy on issues being addressed.