COVID-19 and a Glimmer of Hope

Part 2 of "There is More to Health Than Avoiding COVID-19"

by Dr. Michelle Cretella, Executive Director

Is there any good news or cause for cautious optimism amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Yes! Without minimizing the severity of COVID-19 illness in older adults, or in adults and children with underlying conditions, there are reasons to have hope in regard to youth. First, across the US and around the world, COVID-19 illness in those under age 21 is overwhelmingly mild with a mortality rate close to zero. To put things in perspective, consider that at the end of May, the CDC reported that 179 children had died of seasonal influenza.

In addition, there is emerging evidence from multiple countries around the world that children may not be COVID-19 super spreaders. This emboldened Denmark to reopen schools over 6 weeks ago. Denmark’s government developed a phased reopening that began by sending the youngest children back to school first, with strict attention to increased hand washing, social distancing, additional cleaning of surfaces, touch free sinks, shorter school days, and outdoor classes. Interestingly, masks are not mandated; adults and youth are obviously instructed to stay home if ill, and to sneeze or cough into their elbow. Under lockdown conditions, the infection rate was 0.6. Six weeks after the phased re-opening described above, the rate stood at 0.7

Christian Wejse, an epidemiologist at Aarhus University is not surprised and stated -

We’re not risking lives I think by opening up schools. We may risk some increased transmissions in the children’s families and teachers but really we’ve seen that very little in Denmark. We are now down to a very low number of infectious individuals in the country, I think it will just continue going downwards and die out completely.

Dorte Lange, vice president of the Danish Association of Teachers, reported this silver lining as well, “[W]e’ve learnt that pupils thrive better in smaller groups with more teacher contact and shorter days, so we hope we can continue some of this.”

True, we cannot generalize these early results from Denmark onto the entire US population, but it strikes me as a good argument in favor of creating solutions based on local data rather than issuing a highly restrictive “one size fits all” approach to reopening schools across the country. And that gives me hope!