A leading pediatrician is arguing that keeping schools closed could be having a negative effect on children's mental health.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute, wrote in a piece for the journal JAMA Pediatrics that physical health is not the only factor that should be weighed as state and local governments wrestle with the decision of whether to reopen schools in the fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
"To help inform states and counties that are struggling to make this enormously consequential and urgent decision regarding the fall semester, an expert task force focusing exclusively on school closure should be convened immediately," Christakis wrote in JAMA Pediatrics, of which he is editor-in-chief.
"This panel should include epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, educational scientists, and child psychologists, among others. They should review the state of the evidence regarding horizontal transmission among children and their families, as well as what is known about the feasibility of distance learning and the psychological implications of children continuing to stay at home."
Christakis wrote that "children's varying needs and cognitive abilities" need to be factored into the decision-making process.
"Using all existing and emerging data — however incomplete — they should make their best-informed recommendations to help states make this crucial decision, based on science and not politics, as soon as possible," he wrote. "We owe this to our children. Years from now, when they reflect on the pandemic, they will hold us accountable."
In an interview with NPR, Christakis said children are likely falling behind where they should be. Schools have been closed since March as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected 1.4 million Americans and killed more than 85,000. Worldwide, 4.4 million people have fallen ill and about 300,000 have died.
"The decision to close schools initially, and now to potentially keep them closed, isn't, I think, taking the full measure of the impact this is going to have on children," Christakis said. "Not just the short term, but the long term."
The issue of whether to reopen schools was raised during a Senate hearing this week. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., challenged the cautious advice given by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
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