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Monday, March 30, 2020

Experts debate whether schools should close for the remainder of the year

Schools

By Zeta Cross | Mar 24, 2020

Govwhitmerfromgovernorwebsite300x400
Michigan Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Michigan.gov

As Michigan parents struggle with having children home from school, a guidance report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control questions whether a four-week school closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is long enough.

Kansas recently announced that it was closing its schools for the remainder of the school year. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said it is likely there as well. At this time, it is undecided whether Michigan will follow suit. 

On March 12, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Michigan schools closed for three weeks, through April 5. Only a day later, the seven-page guide from the CDC questioned whether a closure of less than four weeks could slow the virus. As of March 23, Whitmer has extended the date to April 13, according to 13OnYourSide.

Singapore did not choose to close its schools because of COVID-19, the CDC report said. Hong Kong, which did close its schools, did not have lower rates of infection than Singapore, according to Bridge Michigan.

“There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modeling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., hand-washing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and (amount of cases requiring) health care measures,” according to the report, which was released on March 13.

In her announcement, Whitmer said closing of public and private schools was “a necessary step to protect our kids, our families and our overall public health.” The closure was backed by State Schools Superintendent Michael Rice. He told Bridge Michigan, “This is about protecting the most people in Michigan.”

The CDC report, however, said school closure could have unintended consequences. For instance, it could cause the spread of the virus to more grandparents, who have weaker immune systems than younger people. People over age 60 and those with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of serious illness and death from the new coronavirus than children, the CDC said.

 “Almost 40 percent of U.S. grandparents provide childcare for grandchildren,” the CDC said in the report. “School closures will likely increase this percentage.”

Some experts disagree with the CDC position in the report. Bridge Michigan cited Yale University’s Nicholas Christakis, who studies social networks and the spread of epidemics. Christakis said that proactively closing Michigan schools before Michigan started seeing virus cases “has been shown to be one of the most powerful, non-pharmaceutical interventions that can be deployed.” 

He told Science Magazine that St. Louis closed schools for 143 days in 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic and this cut the number of cases in St. Louis significantly.

“It is not just about keeping the kids safe,” Christakis told Science Magazine. “It’s keeping the whole community safe. When you close the schools, you reduce the mixing of the adults — parents dropping off at the school, the teachers being present. When you close the schools, you effectively require the parents to stay home.”

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