Does closing schools slow the spread of coronavirus? Past outbreaks provide clues

Short Wave


Okay let's start this conversation by talking about the number one thing on most kids minds and definitely the number one thing on most parents minds school closings so corey. Why take the kids out of school? Well Emily we've seen in the last few days a kind of tipping point where we went from schools closing. You know here there. On a case by case basis to honestly and just really forty eight hours last week schools starting to close statewide and in most of these places when the decision was made. The didn't actually have that many infections. So you know it. It may have struck people in the moment. Like kind of weird right. Why doing now. Why close if there aren't infections in our media rain so why do that well so I spoke to this guy? Nicholas Kristof. He's at Yale and actually does a lot of really interesting work studying. How ideas spread among other things And they happen to spread kind of like diseases and so when corona virus hit the scene given the interest in this topic and given the fact that you know I'm a physician also specialized in public health and Epidemiology. It was not a stretch for me to become interested in this topic. And so Chris Dacas said. Look yes you you can close the school when there's a case and probably everyone would agree that that is a sensible thing to do and it helps so there's a study. He pointed me to of H One n One. A Flu. Epidemic was about what years ago? Yeah so the study is of Japan's reaction and showed that closing the schools when there's a case made a difference and found that reactive school closures reduce the rate of infections in the community by nearly thirty percent. That is no small number percents so that makes a lot of sense to me but like you said schools in the. Us are closing all over the place even when there aren't a lot of infections. Yeah and I think part of that is because the science around covert nineteen at least in how it spreads is still kind of unsettled. You know. We're not totally clear on how kids can spread it We don't know if say a child you know doesn't seem sick. But is still carrying the corona virus. How will that child impact the people that here she comes into contact with right right like their parents or caretakers exactly so honestly out of an abundance of caution school closures? They limit contact. They limit the possibility of kids getting sick. And of passing along Corona virus to the people they love and Corey. You have an example from history of a time when school cancellations really helped out during a viral outbreak. What was that yeah? This was an enormous flu epidemic back in nineteen eighteen and there's actually a really good research on how U. S. cities responded including What happened to the city's the closed their schools early versus those that didn't so Nicholas Kristof ca says when you look at this research. The results really speak for themselves. If you compare a you know a Saint Louis which closed the schools in advance and kept them closed for longer. Their death rate was three hundred. Fifty eight people per one hundred thousand population but Pittsburgh which waited 'til later didn't keep the schools closed as much. Their death rate was almost three times as high eight hundred. Seven people dying per one hundred thousand population. Wow that is a lot of people. Yeah it's a lot of people And what about? How will that affect families in vulnerable populations? How how will that affect them? I imagined that all this comes with a cost. Oh absolutely and I think this is something. A lot of people aren't thinking about that. You know while keeping schools open has a public health cost so does closing them especially for vulnerable low income families. You know a lot of people don't realize that twenty million kids in this country more than twenty million depend on schools for free breakfast free lunch in some cases free dinner Many of them get medical care at school not to mention the fact that there are lots of parents out there who are working. You know low wage hourly jobs. They can't take off work. They can't work from home. So what happens with these kids? I spoke with Sonia. Santa Liza's she's the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools which are now closed. And she really summed it up. Well for me are a large number of our students the safest place for them to be actually in school so if you think about this from her point of view in. Baltimore you know. The State of Maryland has closed schools for two weeks. That's a long time for some kids to be home alone. to be coming to distribution centres to pick up what are called. Grab and go meals. But honestly emily really really complicatedness is the fact that CDC released new guidance at the end of last week that said these short-term closures like two to four weeks. They're not even long enough to actually slow the spread of this disease. They might need to go much longer and I know there are a lot of school leaders around the country who are looking at guidance and scratching their heads. Like how much longer we talking about here? Well I mean the governor of Ohio Mike DeWine said on CNN. The Sunday you know. He's closed schools there for three weeks but he said it's perfectly imaginable that this is going to go on a lot longer and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year. Wow Mollica I want to bring you in on this. Because you've been looking at the ways this can really affect families. Yeah if schools are closed it can definitely put a lot of pressure on families I spoke to Joy Osowski. She's a clinical and developmental psychologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. And here's what she said. One of the issues. Is You know a lot of parents need to work. And they cannot work remotely and even if they can work remotely. There are a lot of different kinds of things that need to be done for children. If they're not in school yet puts also much more pressure on parents because there isn't the routine of school so there are more meals at home. There's more care for children needed during the day and so they really have to establish what we would call a new normal anew routine and that way so how can parents create that routine and deal with that well You know she had a lot of different ideas but the one that struck me was that Older children can take some responsibility. I myself am the oldest of five siblings and I helped with my siblings growing up. She says that they could basically watch younger kids and help around the house doing chores and that kind of thing And she says it actually is helpful for the older children and can give them a sense of responsibility a sense that they're like actually contributing to the family in a time of crisis And I asked a soft ski weather. Older kids really do step up to the plate and she says that actually she's found after disasters like Hurricane Katrina for example. Older kids have been really helpful. They're helping younger kids out with schoolwork So parents can lean on them. This older kids do your part of the job description. When you're born you got a job description and it's look after sampling. Yeah and what about talking about the virus itself because I know a lot of families are really scared and there's a lot of anxiety around it and maybe they're not sure what to say? I mean a softy said is that parents need to be informed check the CDC website listen to NPR. And there's really really good news for families on the one end. Kids don't really seem to get very sick and emily. I JUST WANNA add a couple of things to from the episode. I just recorded with my colleague on your comments on parenting and current virus over life kit. When you're talking with kids make sure you're not making promises you can't keep so. Don't tell them. Oh no you won't get it because you don't know that and I always liked to channel Mister Rogers whenever I can which is look for the helpers trust in the helpers know that the helpers are out there our country is full of doctors and experts and professionals who are there to help take care of us when we need them and that will be a comfort to kids. This is the time for the helpers for

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