During a Buck Institute Webinar streamed on July 14, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield promoted the general reopening of schools, highlighting the low coronavirus risk for children without preexisting conditions and the unfortunate spike in suicides and drug overdoses, which Redfield said are “far greater” in number than COVID-linked deaths in the young.
“It’s not risk of school openings versus public health. It’s public health versus public health,” asserted Redfield.
“I’m of the point of view, and I weigh that equation as an individual that has 11 grandchildren that the greater risk is actually to the nation to keep these schools closed,” he continued.
Redfield said that over 7 million children get mental health services from their school, “a lot of people get food and nutrition in schools,” and added that schools are vital “in terms of mandatory reporting sexual and child abuse.”
“Obviously, the socialization is important,” he said. “And, obviously, for some kids, I think actually a majority of kids, their learning in a face-to-face school is the most effective method of teaching.”
The reopening, Redfield underscored, “has to be done safely, and it has to be done with the confidence of the teachers. It has to be done with the confidence of parents. And so I think each of the school districts will begin to wrestle with this.”
Speaking of the risks of the China-originated coronavirus to children, Redfield said data shows the flu is some five to 10 times more deadly, adding that the odds of a child dying a COVID-linked death is “one in a million.”
“I think it is important to try to be factual as we go through this,” the CDC director said. “When we look at, right now, the mortality of this particular COVID virus, in the first almost 218,000 people we looked at February to July, there was 52 individuals under the age of 18. And if I recollect, about 35 were actually school age. Some of them were younger than school age. We’re looking critically at those individuals. And, you know, clearly, there’s an increase in comorbidities related to significant medical conditions…”
“But I think that’s important because what that means, actually, is the risk per 100,000, so far, you know, into the outbreak, six months into it, is, in fact, that we’re looking at about .1 per 100,000. So another way to say that, it’s one in a million,” Redfield said in reference to the death rate among children.
“Now, I’m not trying to belittle that, I’m just trying to make sure we look at it proportional,” he said. “Because if you do the same thing for influenza deaths for school-age children over the last five years, they’re anywhere from five to 10 times greater.”
“So I want people to understand the risk properly as they make that decision. And, obviously, influenza, we also benefit from having therapy and a vaccine. So I don’t want people to overestimate the risk of serious illness to individuals that are school age,” Redfield advised.
“That said, there is a real risk to vulnerable individuals that are teachers, potentially, that may have comorbidities,” he added. “And, obviously, there are some students that have a comorbidity.”
According to CDC.gov, “The risk of complications for healthy children is higher for flu compared to COVID-19. However, infants and children with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for both flu and COVID-19.”
The CDC director then discussed the social tradeoff of the shutdown, particularly for our youths.
“But there has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools,” he said. “We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.”
“So this is why I keep coming back for the overall social being of individuals,” he continued, “is let’s all work together and find out how we can find common ground to get these schools open in a way that people are comfortable and their safe. And if there is a need for investment and resources, just like there is a need for some of the underprivileged children that are probably better served if they have certain comorbidities to do homeschooling, they need the access to be able to have the computer and the internet to do that.”
“The goal is to get all these kids back into education,” concluded Redfield. “I’d like to see the goal being face-to-face education, five days a week, as when we get there, then we’ve got there for those children that don’t have an underlying significant comorbidity that would preclude it. And, hopefully, the states and the federal government will work together to see that the resources to get these schools fully operational come to bear.”
The full webinar can be viewed here.