Should I Send My Child Back to School During the Pandemic? An Infectious Disease Expert Weighs In

The Tablet Staff

Understandably, many parents are worried about sending their kids back to school. Teachers are also concerned. Should schools reopen? Is it safe?

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association noted a 90 percent jump in coronavirus cases among children over the past month.

Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist with the Catholic Medical Association, spoke with The Tablet to assess new data and answer questions that parents and teachers have as back-to-school season begins.

The Tablet: What’s your take on the new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association on cases among children over the past month? What have we learned about the virus when it comes to children since the beginning of this pandemic, and what’s changed?

Tiballi: Well, we do understand for certain, so far, that this virus is less problematic for children than regular traditional seasonal influenza. 

It is an issue for children. They seem to maybe be asymptomatic but they can have fairly high accounts of virus in their bodies but, they don’t really seem to be very symptomatic with it, for the most part.

Very small numbers of children can develop significant illness, such as these COVID-type toes, which is a blood clotting disorder. A very, very small number of children develop the lung issues that we see in adults. 

Although this virus can be problematic in very, very small numbers of children, for the most part, children deal with it much better than adults do, and simply because they don’t exchange a lot of air in and out of their chest. So they don’t actually broadcast the virus out into the air nearly as efficiently as an adult with adult-sized lungs, coughing or sneezing, would do.

The Tablet: In your expert opinion, should schools reopen for in-person learning? Do you think it is safe for children then?

Tiballi: Well, there’s a domino effect when children can’t go to school. There are problems, stresses in the family, children get depressed. There has been a silent increase, a dramatic increase in suicides in children and young adults. Some states term children up to age 24. 

When the children are late adolescents, early adults, they seem to have more of a problem with depression and possibly gearing towards suicide. So the whole socialization aspect of being in school is very, very helpful for children. 

I’m a strong proponent of reopening schools. I’ve been working with a number of parochial schools in my area here, where I live, about retrofitting of classrooms to try to decrease the potential for infection. 

One thing we can’t do is think that just because we’re reopening, everything is back to normal. 

No. Unfortunately, there’s a new normal and that includes children wearing masks and teachers wearing gloves, and negative pressure if possible in the classrooms to try to get any virus that may be in the air externalized to the outside world, and not harboring it in the classroom.

The children could be at risk but the people who are more at risk are the teachers, who may have underlying medical conditions, such as being overweight, hypertension, and diabetes. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have an approved therapy to put teachers on prophylaxis, and there’s a lot of discussion that hydroxychloroquine may be effective in that manner. 

There are many studies out there, of a less scientific caliber, that do seem to show that there’s a value there, but we don’t have an approved medicine at this time.

The Tablet: What do you think about Russia’s vaccine? The president there, Vladimir Putin, said his daughter was one of the first to get it, but it has not appeared to have gone through extensive trials yet. Is that right?

Tiballi: That’s right, and there’s a lot of concern that this may be a dangerous thing, and good luck with that. You won’t see me recommending that anybody that I care for.