Experts call for safe reopening of U.S. elementary schools

“Primary schools are essential” and every effort should be made to reopen them full-time in the fall, according to a July 29, 2020 article in the New England Journal of Medicine co-authored by Marc Lipsitch of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Doing so safely will require reducing or eliminating community transmission of COVID-19 while ramping up testing and surveillance, according to the article.

The authors—Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics; Meira Levinson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and Muge Cevik of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews—cited evidence from several other countries, including Denmark, Belgium, Austria, and Singapore, that have successfully reopened schools amid low transmission rates, typically using strict social distancing rules.

They recommended that any U.S. region with moderate, high, or increasing levels of community transmission “should do everything possible to lower transmission,” including closing nonessential indoor spaces such as retail establishments, movie theaters, and bars, and requiring universal mask wearing. “If such measures were adopted now, transmission in many states could probably be reduced to safe levels for mid-September or early-October school reopenings,” they wrote.

Until elementary school children physically return to school full-time, “many will lose out on essential educational, social, and developmental benefits; neither the economy nor the health care system will be able to return to full strength given parents’ caretaking responsibilities; and profound racial and socioeconomic injustices will be further exacerbated,” the authors wrote. They added, “It is inexcusable to open nonessential services for adults this summer if it forces students to remain at home even part-time this fall.”

Read the NEJM article: Reopening Primary Schools during the Pandemic