By Jackalyn Carione
With the surge of COVID-19 cases in Hawaiʻi, we need to protect our keiki and families. An easy way to do that is understanding how the virus spreads and how to reduce risks when possible. As the United States enters the new school year, every state is making different decisions in regards to reopening. This week, most public school students in Hawaiʻi began distance learning instead of attending in-person classes. However, with the state hoping to resume in-person classes again in September, it is important to prepare.
Even though kids haven’t been getting COVID-19 at the same rate as adults, “there is insufficient evidence with which to determine how easily children and youth contract the virus and how contagious they are once they do,” according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. They note this “makes it extremely difficult for decision-makers to gauge the health risks of physically opening schools and to create plans for operating them in ways that reduce transmission of the virus.”
Currently, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that children have lower rates of infection. From January 22 to May 30, 2020, there were 51.1 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 children under 10 and 117.3 cases per 100,000 youth aged 10 to 19. Overall, in this same time period, there were 403.6 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Americans of all ages.
Some states that have decided to move forward with reopening have not seen the outcome they hoped. For instance, a week after a school district in Georgia reopened, over 1,000 students, teachers and staff had to self-quarantine due to dozens of people testing positive for coronavirus. Proper social distancing measures were not in place and masks were not mandated, which contributed to the spread of the virus. This proves the necessity for safety precautions to be put in place for our children, teachers, school staff and families.
Masks have proven to reduce the spread of coronavirus, but not all masks carry the same protection. Duke University recently conducted a study where they tested 14 commonly available masks on their effectiveness. The results showed that fitted N95 masks were the most effective, though these masks may be harder to acquire. Three-layer surgical masks and cotton masks also proved to be effective and are easily available to the public. The masks that did not perform well in the study were neck fleeces (gaiter masks), folded bandanas and knitted masks. Wearing fleece masks may actually cause more respiratory droplets because the material breaks down larger droplets into smaller particles that can be more easily carried away with air. Doing something as simple as wearing the appropriate mask can greatly help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Many parents and caregivers are struggling to decide what learning options is best for their families and children as the new school year begins, so understanding the risks associated with different school activities may help you make informed decisions. According to the CDC, some high risk activities include school buses, eating in the cafeteria, and changing classrooms. Some risk-reducing actions schools can take to help prevent the spread are switching teachers instead of students, limiting classrooms to 10-15 students, holding outdoor classes and limiting shared items. Japan’s health ministry summarized risky behaviors as the “Three Cs”: (1) closed spaces with poor ventilation, (2) crowded places with many people nearby, and (3) close-contact settings such as close-range conversations.
If you are looking for more guidance, the CDC has also created a decision-making tool designed to help parents, caregivers, and guardians weigh the risks and benefits of available educational options to help you make decisions about sending your child back to school.
We hope your families are staying safe and well. If you have children currently doing distance learning, you may have access to benefits that will help you take paid leave to care for your children. Learn more about your rights here. For information about financial assistance, testing locations, and other resources for Hawaiʻi families, visit our website.