Pulse Check: How Are We Doing After Reopening Schools?

Published November 15th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

The impossible decision. This summer, many families faced the difficult task of deciding whether to send their children back to school in the midst of a pandemic. States and school districts offered different choices, and information seemed to be often changing. Now, approximately one month into schools being reopened, how are our kids doing? 

The Good Results of Reopening Schools

It’s important to find the positive in every situation. The silver lining. Especially these days. There are some good things about reopening schools and how they are doing. Kids are resilient and adapt pretty easily. Anecdotally, most kids have gotten used to wearing masks at school and in public. The amount of creativity and innovation with masks has been very cool to see! 

Teachers always blow us away with their creativity, as well. Whether it is decorating their distanced desks, creating new rituals and games, or making lemonade out of lemons with virtual learning, our teachers always provide the best experience for our kids.

Social engagement with peers is a good thing! Whether in person or virtual, interacting with others has a positive impact on children’s mental health and well-being.

If you’re at home with your kiddos, perhaps the silver lining is that you get to spend more time with them and participate more in their learning and growth process. I get it, it may be more of a headache most days, but it’s important to appreciate the good when faced with the bad.

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The Bad Results of Reopening Schools

In the first few weeks, we have heard many examples of students not following safety guidelines (i.e., gathering in large groups), increases in cases, having to move to 100% virtual learning, etc. It all depends on the area of the country or specific school. It has been disheartening to hear about this backward progress when it comes to containing the pandemic, but not incredibly surprising. 

What about the numbers? The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association pulled state-level data focusing on children (age range defined by each state) and COVID-19 and have summarized the findings (data available as of 10/1/2020):

  • From 9/17/20 to 10/1/20, shortly after most schools would’ve reopened, there were 73,276 new child cases reported, a 13% relative increase compared to previous weeks.
  • Cumulatively, children represent 10.6% (657,572/6,231,564) of all cases reported publicly in the United States. This translates to a rate of 874 cases per 100,000 children.
  • Children represent < 0.25% of all COVID-19 deaths and < 0.17% of all child COVID-19 cases result in death.

While mortality in children remains extremely low, the increase in cases makes it harder to contain the virus overall as they can then spread it to friends and family who may be impacted more severely.

The Ugly Results of Reopening Schools

Mental health and well-being. Or lack thereof this year. Several studies, 

including a systematic review from the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and a longitudinal cohort study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, and expert organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Association of School Psychologists, are consistently sending the same messages: 

  • There is/will be an increase in short- and long-term negative mental health effects in children due to the pandemic.  
  • There is a lot that we can do as parents and teachers to help our children.

The ugly part of 2020, even with reopening schools, is the harm this pandemic is doing to our mental health and well-being. Children are hit especially hard because they may not fully understand what is going on and may not have well-developed coping mechanisms. Going through any trauma can make the learning process extremely difficult for children. The silver lining to this ugly reality is that there is a lot we can do to help. Click on the hyperlinks above to the expert organizations for some very helpful and practical tips.

What Now?

Keep taking it one day at a time. Take care of your family and try to make the best decisions for you and your family’s safety, including school decisions. Even though the “bad” and “ugly” tend to monopolize our attention, keep the “good” things in mind too. Love, grace, and understanding are the name of the game. Kids, teachers, and parents must continue working together to make this school year a success. 

Reference List

  1. Where schools are reopening in the US. CNN. Updated October 5, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-schools-reopening/ 
  2. Nierenberg A, Pasick A. Schools Briefing: The State of Play for K-12. The New York Times. August 17, 2020. Updated September 9, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/17/us/k-12-schools-reopening.html 
  3. Elassar A. Two Florida teachers turned their students' desks into little Jeeps to make social distancing less scary. CNN. Updated August 23, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/23/us/florida-teachers-desk-jeep-students-coronavirus-trnd/index.html 
  4. Flores R, Royal D, Weisfeldt S. Covid-19 cases among Florida children jumped 26% in a month. It's still hard to know which schools are safe. CNN. Updated September 14, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/14/us/florida-children-covid-cases-schools-data/index.html 
  5. Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated October 5, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/ 
  6. Loades ME, Chatburn E, Higson-Sweeney N, et al. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. June 2, 2020. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2020.05.009 
  7. Zhang L, Zhang D, Fang J. Assessment of Mental Health of Chinese Primary School Students Before and After School Closing and Opening During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. September 11, 2020;3(9):e2021482. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.21482 
  8. Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated June 24, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Parenting-in-a-Pandemic.aspx
  9. The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated July 23, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/reopening-schools.html
  10. Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19. National Association of School Psychologists. 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/helping-children-cope-with-changes-resulting-from-covid-19 
Published November 15th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

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