Children's Hospital Colorado

Data Supports Prioritizing the Re-opening of Childcare Facilities and Elementary Schools

Children's Hospital Colorado | January 22, 2021
Sean O'Leary, MD, MPH, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Children's Hospital Colorado

JAMA Pediatrics article authored by Children’s Hospital Colorado expert

A new study from Germany offers yet more data to show that childcare facilities and elementary schools should remain open or re-open to full-time, in-person learning as quickly as possible, according to an accompanying editorial by Children’s Colorado infectious disease specialist Sean O’Leary, MD, MPH. The study findings and editorial were published in the Jan. 22 edition of JAMA Pediatrics, a highly respected publication from the American Medical Association focused on child and adolescent health. 

Researchers found children are less likely to spread COVID-19

In the article, Dr. O’Leary notes that COVID-19 is “a milder disease in children compared with adults, particularly older adults.” Additionally, researchers in Germany found that children aged 1 to 10 years were less likely to both acquire and spread COVID-19 than would be expected, which indicates that children play less of a role than adults in spreading the virus. O’Leary also noted that research has shown that hospitalization and death rates for children from COVID-19 are far lower than adults.

Despite these research findings, schools across the state and country have largely been closed to in-person learning since the pandemic reached critical mass in the U.S. in March 2020. As a result, “we have already seen short-term consequences of these closures, and the potential longer-term consequences of a missed year (or more) of learning are dire,” cautioned Dr. O’Leary, who is also a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Hospitals are seeing increased mental and physical effects on children due to the pandemic

Heidi Baskfield, vice president of Population Health and Advocacy at Children’s Colorado, said the hospital system has seen an increase in depression, isolation, hunger, child abuse and suicidal ideation among its young patients due in part to COVID-19, and a decrease in academic progress, physical activity and socialization. She added that balancing the education, mental health and physical safety of children is critical during the pandemic.

“We know that closing schools has a profoundly negative effect on students, impacting everything from brain development to mental health and wellness to food security,” Baskfield said. “Evaluating the scientific research against the impact of closures is important to ensure that the most rational decisions are being made, which will help mitigate long-term harm to our children.” 

Children’s Colorado advocates for school personnel to be a priority for vaccinations

Children’s Colorado recognizes the very real and legitimate concerns that administrators and educators have related to the COVID-19 pandemic and their safety. As a result, the hospital system and its medical experts have advocated to make school personnel eligible for priority COVID-19 vaccinations as part of a formal process to re-open schools.

Children’s Colorado also has worked closely with pediatric community providers and school districts across Colorado to help school administrators and board members determine how they can most safely re-open their schools for in-person learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current evidence suggests existing measures should work against the more contagious coronavirus variant

“While we’re still learning more about this new more contagious variant (B.1.1.7), current evidence suggests that the mitigation measures in place in schools, especially among elementary students, should also work against this variant (wearing face masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, cohorting, etc). As with everything with this pandemic, though, we must constantly re-evaluate the scientific evidence as it emerges, and we will be watching the spread of this variant and any potential impact on schools closely.”

See Children's Colorado's pandemic resources for parents and healthcare professionals.