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WARWICK, RI —Warwick Schools report COVID-19 diagnosed in students & staff at all but one school since the week of Nov. 30, with 6 diagnosed cases among eight elementary schools and 2 at Veterans Middle School reported Dec. 14.
COVID-19 often does not produce visible symptoms among children or adults for days while they are contagious, studies of the virus show. Students, particularly young children, are resilient to the disease, are less likely to show symptoms of infection while remaining contagious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even at Lipitt School, the sole elementary school with no diagnosed cases among students and staff, two staff members have been quarantined. Quarantines are ordered after reported contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. Such contacts are often reported by the persons themselves or disclosed during contact tracing, but the RI Department of Health’s contact tracing team has recently reported difficulty keeping up with that task, leading to contacts among people who should be quarantined, according to a Turnto10.com report.
This week, six Warwick Public Schools staff members tested positive for the virus. Sixty-two staff are quarantined, and 41 students are quarantined, according to district data.
The week of Dec. 7, 13 staff and 21 students among Warwick Public Schools tested positive.
The week of Nov. 30, 19 staff and 18 students among Warwick Public Schools tested positive.
At the Dec. 8 Warwick School Committee Meeting, Superintendent Phil Thornton, noting concern with climbing community COVID-19 cases over the last weeks, said he’d consider COVID-19 positive figures in Warwick — rising from 8 to 10 percent in two weeks — as he assessed a return to in-person classes for grades 6-12 Jan. 4. Hours later, with the percent positive figure for Warwick at 12 percent, Thornton moved the district to all-distance learning starting Dec. 14, lasting through Dec. 23.
Implicit in the nation-wide push to return public schools to in-person classes during the pandemic is the balance of risk to public health — illness, hospitalization, death, and long-term effects on the heart, lungs and brain among survivors — against the risk to students’ education.
School closing educational risks
- Closures disrupt school-based services such as immunization, school meals, mental health and psychosocial support, and can cause anxiety due to loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines, according to the World Health Organization.
- Keeping children home affects the ability of parents to work, introducing other risks, the WHO reports.
- Parents, teachers and students have all noted learning is more efficient in-person.
COVID-19 risks from schools
Children, particularly elementary aged students, don’t become as physically, visibly ill when infected with the virus as older people, particularly the elderly.
According to a June 2020 study, “Age-dependent effects in the transmission and control of COVID-19 epidemics,” posted in Nature.com, while children show visible symptoms of COVID-19 infection less frequently, and are less likely to transmit the virus, less likely does not mean never.
“If infected children are less likely to show clinical (visible) symptoms, then the number of cases reported among children would be lower, but children with subclinical (not visible) symptoms could still be capable of transmitting the virus to others, potentially at lower rates than fully symptomatic individuals, as has been shown for influenza,” according to the study.
While many children will not be sickened by the virus that causes COVID-19 enough to show noticeable symptoms, their parents and other adult members of their household are not as fortunate.
Also, while serious illness and hospitalization of children from COVID-19 is less likely, the risk to children is also not zero.
Hopkins Medicine points out that, according to an Oct. 22 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 11 percent of patients with COVID-19 are children. Children make up 1 percent to 3.6 percent of total reported COVID-19, hospitalizations, and between 0.6 percent and 6.9 percent of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.
Parent/family risk of COVID-19 from children
In fact, there have been documented cases of children in school or day care facilities sickening their parents, and the CDC warns parents to guard against the possibility:
- A CDC Sept. 18 report from Salt Lake City, Utah of COVID-19 transmission from child care facilities showed 12 children acquired COVID-19 in facilities in that state. Transmission of COVID-19 was documented from these children to at least 12 (26 percent) of 46 non-facility contacts (confirmed or probable cases). One parent was hospitalized. Transmission was observed from two of three children with confirmed, asymptomatic COVID-19. “SARS-CoV-2 Infections among young children acquired in child care settings were transmitted to their household members,” according to the report.
- A South Korean study of COVID-19 infection from children to other members of the family showed, “A paediatric COVID-19 index case may expose household members to a substantial level of infection during the presymptomatic phase.”
- National Geographic reported an Iceland study showing that children younger than 15 spread COVID-19 only half as much as adults.
- The CDC has posted a number of tips parents can follow to prevent transmission between children and high-risk adults and elderly. One notable tip reads, “If you live with people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider separating your child from them if your child has frequent interactions with those outside the household (like at schools or other settings).”