Is it safe to open schools? (Mid July)


  • No. It is not safe to open schools when the virus is spreading.
  • To safely open schools we need:
    • Low virus spread in the community.
    • Lots of virus testing and fast results.
    • Protective equipment and plans for students and staff.
  • Opening schools before it’s safe could make everything much worse.

Q1: Why are experts saying it’s not safe to open schools? 

There are 3 things to worry about: 

  • Will kids get sick? 
  • Will kids spread it to others, like their parents?  
  • Is it safe for teachers and staff?
  • Will kids get sick or die?
  • Will kids spread the virus to their families or others?
    • Yes. 
    • The newest data says that kids over 10 are just as contagious as adults. They can give it to their parents, their teachers, and other kids. Younger children spread it about half as much.
  • Is it safe for teachers and other school staff?
    • No.
    • School teachers and staff are just as likely to catch and get sick from coronavirus as anyone else. They are also just as likely to spread it to kids or each other. 
    • Some teachers have health issues that put them at greater risk.

Q2: Why is it so important to open schools?

  • Kids learn much better in person than online. 
  • Some subjects – like science and art – are particularly hard to teach online.
  • Schools take care of children so parents can go to work.
  • Schools support low income and students with disabilities in ways that are very hard to replicate at home.
  • Being physically in school helps children develop.
  • It’s hard on kids and families to be isolated. Sometimes it’s traumatic.
  • Lower income and minority students are more affected by the virus.

Q3: What can be done to make opening schools safe?

Option 1: Stop coronavirus

The best way to make it safe to open schools is to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

That means the number of cases, hospitalization and deaths go down. 

It can be done. Today, July 13, 2020, New York announced ZERO new coronavirus deaths for the first time since early March.

Some states and communities will be able to safely open earlier than others depending on how quickly coronavirus is spreading in that community.

Option 2: Social distancing and other precautions.

The other way to open schools is to make sure they have fewer kids in them. Each school district must develop plans to keep kids and teachers safe. They need to follow rules set by the CDC, including full-time mask wearing, keeping kids 6 feet apart from each other and the adults while in school, along with several other recommendations. Most schools can’t have all their students on site and still follow these rules.

This is a lot of new work for schools.

Schools must screen children for illness.  They need to know what to do if a child is ill. They need to help kids of every age and ability understand and follow the rules. Will they be able to warn classmates of reported infections, or is that a privacy violation? There are dozens of considerations.

And they’ll need to learn how to do all of it as they go along. 

That’s very hard to do, especially without extra state or federal support.

Long term investments

Schools have been starved of money to hire enough staff, to expand space as the population grows,  to properly maintain school buildings, and update learning technology. In the long term, giving money to schools may be the best thing we can do for kids and the economy.

Q4: If they can open schools in Germany, Vietnam, New Zealand and other countries, why can’t we?

In each of those countries they have stopped the spread of coronavirus. They are actively preventing new outbreaks in a variety of ways. Most countries have universal mask-wearing, very heavy testing, and contact tracing. They are constantly looking for new outbreaks and making sure infected people get isolated from healthy people. 

In the US, the coronavirus is spreading faster than ever, and we don’t have enough testing or contact tracing to slow the spread or stop new outbreaks. Many states have chosen not to make masks mandatory.

Q5: Didn’t the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend opening schools anyway?

No. The AAP said we should do everything possible to make it safe to open schools. They reminded us how valuable schools are to children and families. Then they repeated the CDC guidelines on how to reopen schools safely – distancing, masks, etc.. You can read the AAP statement here.

Q6: How come there’s so much disagreement on this?

Most families really want their kids to go back to school. They are also worried about their health and safety. Some people are trying to make it a political issue, which is unfortunate. The other problem is that this is a new illness and science and medicine do not have all the answers yet. The schools need to prepare and remain flexible to be able to best support students as the situation gets better or worse.


Where we got our information:

CDC: Considerations for Schools

New England Journal of Medicine: SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Children

NPR: Coronavirus Mystery: Are Kids Less Likely To Catch It Than Adults Are?

The Atlantic: Paging Dr. Hamblin: Are Kids Really Spared From the Coronavirus?

CNN News Source: Study: Children can spread COVID-19 just as easily as adults

Nature Journal: How do children spread the coronavirus? The science still isn’t clear

New York Times: Older Children Spread the Coronavirus Just as Much as Adults, Large Study Finds

American Academy of Pediatrics: COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry

Bloomberg: School Children Don’t Spread Coronavirus, French Study Shows

World Health Organization: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions

Wall Street Journal: Israelis Fear Schools Reopened Too Soon as Covid-19 Cases Climb

South Florida Sun Sentinel: Nearly one-third of children tested for COVID in Florida are positive. Palm Beach County’s health director warns of risk of long-term damage



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