Coronavirus, kids and school closings: Four questions answered | Monday Morning Coffee

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Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The bad news is that school students from Pittsburgh to Perkasie will be staying home from class for the next 10 days starting this Monday morning. The good news? Disney+ released “Frozen 2” ahead of schedule to provide some diversion during the difficult days ahead.

We’re being a bit flip, but we’ve always believed that a wry smile is the best medicine at times of trial. But for those of you who need some extra-strength advice as you and your children stare down two weeks — and perhaps more — of enforced confinement, we’re turning to an expert to get the week going.

Aubree Gordon, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, wrote the piece below for The Conversationwhere it originally appeared.

(Image via pxHere.com)

1. Can children get COVID-19?

Children can catch the virus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, the disease that has infected more than 121,000 and caused more than 4,000 deaths. However, for reasons that we public health officials and physicians do not understand, most children do not seem to get very sick from the infection. In fact, some children may not display any symptoms at all.

In China, where the best clinical data are available, fewer infections were documented in children and teenagers than in older people. This same pattern was seen during the 2002-2003 outbreaks of SARS coronavirus, a virus that is closely related to SARS-CoV-2.

It is not clear whether children may be less susceptible to the virus, meaning that they are less likely to catch it, or if they just have milder symptoms than adults on average, and thus are less likely to be detected as cases. It’s also important to note that there have been no reports of fatal cases of COVID-19 in children under the age of 10. In older children and teenagers, there has only been a single documented death to my knowledge. So, kids are much less likely to get COVID-19 than adults and if they do catch it, they typically have mild illness.

(c) dglimages – stock.adobe.com

2. What role do schools play?

Respiratory viral diseases are spread when people come into contact with one another. This means that any place where people gather in close proximity can lead to viral transmission.

One of the best ways that we have to help control epidemics or pandemics of viruses like influenza is to close schools. This is because children tend to be very susceptible to common human respiratory viruses. They shed, or pass on, virus at higher levels and for longer than adults, which makes them more likely to transmit the disease. And they typically have poorer hygiene habits than adults.

Thus, most countries’ pandemic plans include plans for school closures. But, it’s important to note that school closures are not guaranteed to reduce transmission. Timing of the closure is very important. Closures early in the epidemic are more likely to be effective, and they may be ineffective if children just gather in other locations.

(U.S. Department of Education / Flickr)

3. Why close schools if children do not get very sick with COVID-19?

While SARS-CoV-2 appears to rarely cause severe disease in children, it is still possible that children play an important role in transmission. It is important to note that people who have symptoms of respiratory diseases, such as coughing and sneezing, are generally considered to be more infectious than those who are not showing symptoms. That is because the virus spreads when a person coughs or sneezes.

COVID-19 transmits very efficiently, and people do not have pre-existing immunity. Without controls, a large proportion of the population will become infected in any area where the virus circulates. And because of the severity of this virus in older adults, this would cause substantial severe illness and death.

In areas where large outbreaks occur, the health system may become overwhelmed, leading to an increasing fatality rate for COVID-19 and an increase in deaths from all causes. The severity of the situation thus requires communities to do what they can to limit transmission.

Gov. Tom Wolf (Flickr)

4. If closing schools might help, why not just close them all now?

It is important to remember that there are a lot of economic and social costs that come with school closures. When schools are closed, children miss out on learning. Extended closures may lead to children falling behind. They also cause an increase in worker absenteeism when parents have to stay home with their kids. That in turn affects the economy as a whole and may undermine key services, such as health care and law enforcement.

From a social perspective, low-income and single-parent households are particularly affected. Employers may not grant paid sick time to workers, leaving parents to choose between leaving children in less-than-ideal care or unsupervised, or not being able to pay for basic needs.

Schools often also serve as an important social support, providing hot meals and needed services to low-income and homeless children. Indeed, for this exact reason, New York City leaders have announced that they see school closures as a last resort (New York announced a schools shutdown on Sunday, Ed). Thus, the decision to close schools and when to close them is very complicated and will depend on a number of factors.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
As of Sunday afternoon, Pennsylvania was up to 63 COVID-19 cases, with the virus spreading to northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. Here’s what you need to know — along with our continuously updated map of the virus’ spread.

The state Legislature is due to return to work on Monday, and, along with them, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania state employees. Under the latest guidance from the Wolf administration, employees who live or work in the four, suburban counties around Philadelphia (‘mitigation counties’) are being asked to work from home if they can.

Associate Editor Cassie Miller highlights the important stuff that Americans need to know about the 2020 Census — but don’t — in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

From our partners at Stateline.org, officials are becoming increasingly vigilant as the potential for coronavirus-inspired cyber-crime rises.

From our partners at the Pittsburgh Currenthere’s what we know about the two, new cases in Allegheny County.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Dick Polman says the virus crisis has revealed President Donald Trump’s unfitness to lead. And Democratic leaders in the state House tout their “Plan4Pa,” as the spring session gets underway.

(Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Overnight, the Wolf administration ordered all Commonwealth employees “who work in Dauphin County and the Capitol Complex are directed to follow the instruction provided below beginning tomorrow, MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2020 and extending for a period of 14 days.”

In an 11:30 p.m. email, the Office of Administration offered this advice to the affected cohort of state workers:

  • “If you are currently equipped to telework and have the necessary equipment with you, please begin to do so starting tomorrow.
  • If you are able to telework but need to obtain the necessary equipment from your office, please report to work to obtain what you need in order to effectively telework. Upon retrieval of needed equipment, return home to begin working from home for the remainder of the day.
  • If you are unsure if you are able to telework, please consult with your supervisor.”

“Paid office closing (POC) absences must be entered for non-essential employees who work overtime or out-of-class within the same week of an office closing, if the employee is eligible for payment during an office closing in accordance with Management Directive 530.17,” the memo reads. “Further guidance will be provided to all commonwealth managers and supervisors to respond to questions and ensure the proper handling of this situation.”

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On.
The House returns to session this Monday morning, whatever that looks like. The Senate is on a 12-hour call and returns on Tuesday. Buckle up, friends. It’s going to be an interesting week.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this Monday morning to faithful reader and fan, Harvey Freedenburg, who celebrated on Sunday. Hope it was a good day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a great new track from English DJ and dance producer Jolliffe. It’s ‘Time Please.’

Monday’s Gratuitous History Fact:
Until hockey, baseball, soccer, or curling returns, we’re rolling with this one. On March 16, 1872, the first English FA Cup Final is played at Kensington Oval in London. Wanderers defeat Royal Engineers 1-0. This also is the first recorded instance of an America tourist wondering aloud, “They don’t score very much, do they?” They are pelted with fish and chips.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press