Closing school may increase COVID-19 deaths

COVID-19 forced us to close places where many people gather. Like schools – many schools around the world were closed and students had to transition to studying at home. This was done in order to slow down the spread of the virus, but now scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that closing schools during the pandemic would result in more overall deaths in the long term than keeping them open.

Shutting down schools does help manage the limited number of beds in intensive care wards, but in the long term it may put old people at greater risk. Image credit: Zakhx150 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Although children typically do not experience hard COVID-19 symptoms and are more resistant to this viral disease, they can still spread it. Hundreds and hundreds of children in relatively small classes is just not a good idea. Especially having in mind that children usually do not pay as much attention to hygiene as adults. But maybe closing schools has an opposite effect?

Scientists now re-analysed a study developed by Imperial College London. ICL scientists produced a model, which helped predicting how the virus is going to spread and how healthcare staff would be affected. Scientists combined these models with real-world data collected since March using a simulation model – known as CovidSim. This analysis confirmed the predictions – preventive measures introduced in the UK in March did help the NHS to control the demand of intensive care beds. However, this is just a part of the story.

In the short term shutting down schools helps reduce SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission. This helped manage the limited number of beds that were available in the hospitals in the UK. However, in the long term keeping children out of schools may disadvantage their grandparents, resulting in more COVID-19 deaths. This is because more of the work is left for older people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 symptoms. Also, shutting down schools prolongs the pandemic, which also puts the most vulnerable groups in greater danger.

Professor Graeme Ackland, lead author of the study, said: “Mitigating a Covid-19 epidemic requires very different strategies for different age groups and a different strategy from an influenza epidemic, with more focus on shielding elderly and vulnerable people.” Of course, this entire study become irrelevant once the vaccines are developed, but those will take a long time and currently their research is struggling with adverse side effects and sub-par effectiveness.

We are currently experiencing the beginning of the second wave of COVID-19. Policy makers will have to think of the best ways to keep the economy going while protecting its citizens. It is not going to be easy and many factors will have to be balanced. Hopefully, policy makers will use lessons learned during the first wave of COVID-19 to keep countries going, while protecting the people from this dangerous disease.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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