The new US administration has made re-opening schools a priority. There are many benefits to re-opening schools and certainly, re-opening schools are more important than re-opening bars and many other businesses. But there are many risks as well.
One of the risks is the susceptibility of kids to COVID-19. Kids suffer far fewer fatalities and hospitalizations than older adults (although kids could suffer long term ill effects with COVID-19). The question really comes down to how easily do kids acquire the virus and how easily do they transmit COVID-19 to others and fuel the pandemic.
In Florida, most schools and universities reopened in late August 2020. Since then the number of daily confirmed cases per capita has risen steadily for all age groups. College and university-aged (18-24yrs) students are most active and mobile and show the highest cases per capita – currently 30% above average. High school students (14-17yrs old) have always tracked near the average infection rate. Elementary school student (5-10yrs old) infection started out near 30% to 40% of average but has risen steadily over the last 5 months. Currently, they are 64% as contagious as the average Floridian, and middle school students are 81% as contagious (see graph below).
Why have kids become more contagious?
1. One explanation is that with school reopening, kids are tested more often. While testing has increased, the positivity rate has gone up as well reflecting a real increase in community spread. Over the last 7 weeks, tests have topped out at 100k/day in FL.
2. The spread of more contagious variants from the UK, South Africa, and Brazil has increased the rate of transmission, including among kids. Whether kids are more susceptible is an open question. FL data suggest that kids may be.
Re-opening schools should be done in phases with K-5 grades re-opening first and perhaps high schools not at all until community spread is much lower than it is today. In Florida, most high schools have re-opened along with most sports and this has exacerbated outbreaks in Florida. We strongly discourage high contact sports such as high school wrestling that have led to super-spreader events.