CDC, NIH failing schools with inadequate guidance

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Local New York State school boards are getting too little from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health as they decide how best to responsibly open schools.

The CDC and NIH offer procedural information about defending against COVID-19, including the Delta variant, but offer little help evaluating risks to children, staff, families, or extended families.

NIH Director Francis Collins admitted Tuesday that masking recommendations are based on anecdotes and not scientific data. He says that while children contracting COVID-19 is rare, some 400 have died. Economist Mark J. Perry put COVID-19 risk in context. Children 5-14 were 11 times more likely to die in car accidents, 3.4 times more likely to drown, 8 times more at risk from influenza/pneumonia, and 1.4 times more likely to die from fire. The CDC and NIH don’t evaluate how other health, social, or educational consequences compare.

The CDC also doesn’t address how likely exposure should be treated.

A study, published in The Medical Journal of Australia, found children less likely than adults to be affected by COVID-19. Medicalxpress reported, “Of 426 hospital presentation, 393 children tested positive for COVID-19 and most had mild cases that did not require medical intervention. Only one child had severe COVID-19 and another two children developed Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome” and just 12% were hospitalized, mostly for observation and fluid rehydration, and 4% were treated remotely at home.

Another Australian project published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) found 58% of children had mild disease, 36% were asymptomatic and 5% had moderate disease. MCRI Dr. Shidan Tosif said all children recovered well and the common long-term symptoms of a cough and fatigue did not persist beyond eight weeks.

Then there is the issue of whether children pass COVID-19 to other family members or mostly the reverse. Collins admits that those that catch it don’t transmit it as vigorously as older people. MCRI Dr. Laila Ibrahim said “On average, children tested positive after two days of having symptoms such as fever, runny nose and a cough and many had household contacts who were also positive for COVID-19.”

Finally, the CDC has been unhelpful offering useful information about the efficacy of mitigators like Vitamin D3, zinc, or how therapeutics for otherwise healthy people can reduce hospitalization or risk of death.

We were never going to defeat the virus, but have to learn to live sensibly with it. For local school districts, setting policy has to consider how effectively to school the upcoming generation, operate as openly as possible, protect the more vulnerable, detect those with symptoms to evaluate likely household cases, and treat those in need.

Accordingly, CDC and NIH guidelines may be true but not useful. Their focus may be too narrow when it comes to setting procedures for effectively opening schools.

— S.B. Waters

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