Are schools becoming ‘superspreader’ sites for COVID-19?

The Unifed Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City public school educators, threatened Wednesday to strike if the city did not agree to its health and safety demands. Teachers demonstrated Aug. 3 against reopening schools. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

With schools back in session (in a matter of speaking), we see school buses on the road. After a week of staggered classes, masks and social distancing, many still wonder if it is safe to reopen schools in the middle of a pandemic.

In New York City, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew is threatening legal actions against the city and a strike by the union’s 75,000 members if the mayor ties to force them to return to the classrooms to face students and teach.

He warns reopening school classrooms will cause “one of the biggest debacles in history.”

“We’re going to have the same stories we’re seeing in Georgia, in Florida, in Mississippi — the same thing will happen here,” he told The Washington Post.

In Georgia, a high school had to shut down after both students and staff tested positive for the Coronavirus. Same for Florida, Mississippi and other states.

Five weeks ago, Floyd County had 20 confirmed cases of the virus. Wednesday’s count was 117 and continues to rise daily. Covid-19 hospitalizations increased by 158 patients in Wednesday’s report from the Virginia Department of Health. The Old Dominion had 8,925 hospitalizations on Wednesday as it closes in on 9,000. More than 2,400 Virginia have died from the virus so far this year.

Research by Massachusetts General Hospital says children may be “super spreaders” of the disease, even if they are not showing symptoms.

“Kids are not immune from this infection, and their symptoms don’t correlate with exposure and infection,” Dr. Alessio Fasano, senior author and director of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Researcher Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells USA Today.

“Kids are a possible source of spreading this virus,” Fasano adds. “And this should be taken into account in the planning stages for reopening schools.”

Reports The Washington Post:

The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that young people are becoming the primary drivers of the spread of the novel coronavirus in many countries — a worrisome trend experts fear may grow in the United States as many colleges and schools begin to reopen.

“This increases the risk of spillovers to the most vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, people in long-term care, people who live in densely populated urban areas and underserved rural areas,” Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, said.

The global health agency’s warnings come amid intense debate in the United States about whether to bring students back to classrooms. So far, at least 168,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to a Washington Post analysis.

For colleges and universities, where students in their late teens and 20s live in tight quarters and mingle at off-campus gatherings, the problem has proved particularly vexing.

–The Washington Post

So the problem is not only worrisome elementary and high schools, but can become epidemic in nearby college campuses like Virginia Tech in Blacksburg or Radford University.

Radford Wednesday confirmed that it suspended three students (one for the year and two for the current term) for their role in gatherings that violated the state’s limits and not using precautions like masks and social distancing.

Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were told this week that in-person undergraduate learning was being canceled after a cluster of coronavirus cases on campus. (Gerry Broome/AP)

The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill reopened campus last week with what they thought would be adequate measures of protection, but shut down Monday after 177 students tested positive in residence halls and a fraternity house.

Notre Dame shut down for a least two weeks after 147 positive tests and Michigan State University closed its on campus activities and shifted to remote learning for the fall after 187 positive tests.

Brown University and the University of Maryland scrapped plans to reopen on their campuses and have moved to virtual learning for an indefinite period.

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