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COVID‐19, children and schools: overlooked and at risk

Kathleen E Ryan, Sharon Goldfield, Margie H Danchin and Fiona Russell
Med J Aust 2021; 214 (4): 189-189.e1. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50936
Published online: 1 March 2021

To the Editor: The recent MJA article by Hyde1 presents aspects of the debate regarding children’s transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV‐2) and school outbreaks. While we acknowledge this debate, Hyde’s article omits key research on the topic; importantly and specifically, the harms to children with school closures. We highlight some of the facts that Hyde’s Perspective did not cover.

A systematic review concluded that children aged under 10 years were less susceptible to infection with SARS‐CoV‐2 compared with adolescents and adults.2 In addition, Victorian data show that children aged under 12 years are less likely to transmit the virus in school or childcare settings compared with adolescents and adults.3 Hyde’s assertion that age‐related differences remain in question is not borne out in the literature.

Evidence suggests that schools are not sites of heightened transmission risk, but rather reflect community transmission. The data from France4 referenced in Hyde’s article do not account for confounding associated with increased movement by adults when children return to school. In Victoria, schools were closed not because they were deemed high risk, but to minimise the movement of people, especially adults.5

Asymptomatic coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) is not uncommon in children; however, contrary to Hyde’s claim, this does not mean that case detection is difficult or that children contribute disproportionately to transmission. In the scenario presented by Hyde, one would expect outbreaks at schools to be disproportionate to community transmission, but local and international data show that the opposite is true.3,6

As parts of Europe enter lockdown, health authorities, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, have supported schools staying open.7,8 For some children, school is the safest place. The wide‐ranging indirect psychosocial and educational effects of lockdowns have been reported9 and have been observed by Victorian teachers and paediatricians; however, this is not discussed in Hyde’s article.

To future‐proof the harm to children from school closures, a multidisciplinary team must develop a COVID‐19‐safe school policy. Our team of paediatricians and infectious disease epidemiologists developed a return to school guidance for the safe return to school for children in Victoria which can be scaled up and down depending on the level of community transmission.3 We are concerned that this Perspective may fuel parental anxiety, and we believe that its lack of rigour should question its place in the MJA.

 

  • Kathleen E Ryan1,2,3
  • Sharon Goldfield1,4
  • Margie H Danchin1,4
  • Fiona Russell1,5

  • 1 Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 Alfred Health, Melbourne, VIC
  • 3 Monash University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 4 Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC
  • 5 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC

Correspondence: kathleen.ryan@mcri.edu.au

Competing interests:

The authors have received funding from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for analysis and reporting of COVID‐19 in children and schools in Victoria.

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