Over the last week, our country, and others across the globe have taken drastic measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. One such action is the canceling or temporary postponement of in-person classes. Many colleges and universities, as well as high schools, middle and elementary schools, have closed their doors nationwide. These unprecedented decisions have been made in hopes of “flattening the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic. However, some argue that this decision could result in collateral damage, forcing citizens to make tough decisions to practice social distancing. An article featured in the New York Times discusses the case for and against nationwide school closures.
The biggest concern that prompted the closure of schools was fear that infections would spread faster, leading to increased hospitalization that could potentially overwhelm the nation’s hospital systems. By limiting contact with others, and flattening the curve, the number of infected individuals can be more easily managed. Although many school-aged children appear to experience few, if any symptoms, they can still carry the virus, which is fatal to older populations. Alongside this, adults are more “reliable” in terms of their ability to carry out simple precautions such as washing their hands and avoiding touching their faces. School environments are often breeding grounds for disease, as children are in close contact with others and packed into small areas. With schools being open, older employees are at risk as they may interact with hundreds of students from across the region daily.
Those who are against shutting down schools cite the apparent disruption to education that closures will cause. Sure, some schools can move to online learning. However, many are not prepared for this change. Alongside this, some students may have little to no access to the internet, let alone devices necessary for online class participation. Many feel this will set students back significantly, as most are losing up to an entire semester’s worth of education. In terms of concerns related to childcare, roughly 1.5 million students are homeless, using a school as a haven. Others who have a home cannot be left alone, leaving parents to forfeit their work salaries to care for their children.
In some cases, children may be left under the care of their grandparents, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We could also potentially face a shortage of healthcare workers in the event they are forced to stay home and care for their children. Perhaps most importantly is the issue of food. Nearly 30 million children depend on school for lunch, 15 million depending on school for breakfast. With two essential meals lost as a result of school closures, millions of children will be left hungry.
With all this in mind, it should come to no surprise that this has been a very tough decision for schools across the country to make. We are being forced to choose between a lesser of two evils, with no clear winners. We can only hope that these measures will contain the spread effectively and sooner than currently projected. As summer approaches, such cancellations could impact camp, and other summer programs depended on by parents and young children for child care, safety, and food.