The CDC Has Launched a New Tool to Help Parents Make This Big Decision

Back to school season is now fraught with serious coronavirus questions, but the CDC wants to help.

Schools have long been known as germ hot zones, but the threat of the potentially deadly coronavirus raises the stakes considerably. While back to school season is a late-summer tradition that parents typically celebrate, the prospect now has a dark shadow cast over it. Many parents have serious doubts about sending their little ones back to school, potentially at the expense of the entire household's safety. Amid all of these coronavirus questions, the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) recently launched a new school tool to help parents make the safest decision possible for their kids and their families as a whole.

Launched in the last week of July, the CDC's new tool aims "to help parents, caregivers, and guardians weigh the risks and benefits of available educational options to help them make decisions about sending their child back to school," the CDC explains.

The online tool comes in the form of a downloadable checklist, which includes three basic sections. The first asks questions regarding how schools are preparing for the 2020-2021 academic year, and has decision-makers checking either "Does Not Apply," "Disagree," "Unsure," or "Agree" in response. The second part includes questions designed to assess whether virtual learning would be feasible for the parent and child with the same answer options. The third focuses on school-based services, particularly for students with special needs or those who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

While the checklist provides a useful guide designed to help parents consider the many variables at play, it doesn't offer any specific solutions based on their answers. "Multiple checks in the 'Unsure' or 'Disagree' columns might warrant a conversation with school administrators, your healthcare provider, or your employer," the CDC advises. They add: "Parents may also want to use the tool to make their views, concerns, and suggestions known to school administrators."

Teacher and students wearing masks during coronavirus pandemic back to school

The CDC's introduction to the online tool makes reference to two primary and outstanding questions about COVID-19 and children. The first is, "How easily children can contract the virus?" The CDC notes: "Limited data about COVID-19 in children suggest that children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults, and when they do get COVID-19, they generally have less serious illness than adults."

Secondly, the CDC asks what role children play in the spread of the coronavirus. On this issue, the CDC cites evidence from other countries that suggests "most pediatric cases resulted from children becoming infected by a family member. The more individuals a person interacts with, and the longer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread."

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However, the CDC's journal Emerging Infectious Diseases published a South Korean study from June that looked at how often children transmit COVID-19. Researchers looked at 5,700 people who reported coronavirus symptoms and found that those between the ages of 10 and 19 were most likely to spread the coronavirus in their households. Nearly 20 percent of those who shared a home with sick patients in that 10-19 age group also eventually contracted the virus. The same study found that kids younger than 10 years old were the least likely to spread the disease (about 5 percent of their contacts got sick), suggesting that younger children are less infectious than teenagers and tweens.

Another study that recently came out of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that young children may carry far more of the coronavirus than adults. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, compared 145 infected patients in three age groups: young children under 5, children between 5 and 17 years old, and adults 18 to 65 years old. While the researchers found similar amounts of coronavirus in the respiratory tracts of older children and adults, they found 10 to 100 times more particles in the respiratory tracts of children under 5.

This kind of research is making the decision to send children back to school while the virus continues to spread an even more frightening one. It's particularly harrowing for working parents who need schools to reopen so they can earn a paycheck. And while the CDC's new tool may not provide any solutions, it does offer a useful roadmap of all the issues to consider. And for more on the COVID numbers in your state that can help you make an informed decision, check out Here's How Much COVID Cases Are Rising in Every State.

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