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Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains why his kids won't go back to school: 'This was not an easy decision'

Dr. Gupta knew that the only way to make this decision was by looking at the data and existing criteria to come up with the best science-based choice for his children.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains why his kids won't go back to school: 'This was not an easy decision'
Image Source: Getty/ Honoree Sanjay Gupta speaks on stage during the 34th Annual Ellis Island Medals Of Honor Ceremony hosted by EIHS at Ellis Island on May 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Gala)

For the past few weeks Dr. Sanjay Gupta — a neurosurgeon and Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN — has been grappling with the same question that parents across the country have: Should he or should he not, send his three daughters back to school when in-person learning resumes? Although his girls yearned to return to their classrooms and meet their friends, Dr. Gupta knew that the only way to make this decision was by looking at the data and existing criteria to come up with the best science-based choice for his children. After thorough research and consideration, he presented his findings in a CNN article which might be helpful for other parents struggling to make this decision for their kids.



First, Dr. Gupta visited his daughters' school and spent time with the head of the school to get a clear understanding of the precautionary measures being put in place. "They are very much in line with recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There will be a mask mandate, plenty of hand hygiene stations, physical distancing plans, frequent disinfecting of surfaces, and even outdoor classes when possible. Students will eat lunch in the classroom, and there won't be any mass gatherings or assemblies. While physical distancing is the toughest challenge, the school has made creative use of space in libraries, gymnasiums, and cafeterias to obtain the necessary square footage to try and address this. It has been a herculean effort over the past few months, but of course, none of this works if the students themselves aren't diligent about following these practices on buses, in hallways, and in classrooms," he wrote.



The school also went a step further and all the students and faculty and staff over the past week, the results of which were made available within 96 hours. Dr. Gupta noted that while this sort of testing comes as some reassurance to children choosing to return to school, it is not still not widely available across the country. Neither is this sort of "assurance" testing a perfect tool to determine the risks involved in bringing kids back to the classroom as some tests have been "known to give a considerable amount of false negatives, depending on the type of test you take and how early you take it," he wrote.



"Much of the discussion about returning to school revolves around the risk to the health of our children. According to the CDC, the largest pediatric study out of China found that 90 percent of children with COVID-19 develop mild or moderate symptoms, 4 percent were entirely asymptomatic and 6 percent became severely or critically ill. By the first week of August, 90 children in the US had died of COVID-19, which represents less than 1 percent of all deaths, according to an analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association," he continued. Dr. Gupta noted that while children are far less likely to get sick from COVID-19, it doesn't mean that they aren't immune to the deadly virus.



"A widely cited study out of South Korea showed that kids 10 to 19 were spreading the virus just as much as adults. In fact, they had the highest rate of COVID-19 among household contacts. Interestingly, in that same study, children younger than 10 did not account for a significant amount of viral spread. This was surprising because a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics concluded younger kids may carry higher amounts of the virus in their nose, as compared to adults. And any parent will tell you how easily little kids spread viruses in their own homes," he explained. He then took a closer look at the South Korea study and found that it included less than 30 positive cases younger than 10-years-old.



"Of the nearly 60,000 contacts that were traced in that study, only 237 were from children under 10. The low rate of spread among young kids may not have been because they are less likely to transmit the virus, but because they have largely been home over the last few months, and had few contacts as a result," Dr. Gupta explained. "As our kids become increasingly mobile, they will become part of a large national experiment, and there is little doubt the infection rates will increase. Just over the past four weeks, the number of children infected in the United States has increased by 90 percent to more than 380,000 cases, according to that same analysis by AAP and CHA."



He also stressed the importance of taking into consideration the safety of teachers and other staff when talking about reopening schools. "My family also took a closer look at the overall rate of viral spread in our own area. Within the Fulton County Schools system, where we live, the guidelines for schools to return to full-time, face-to-face instruction requires the county rate of new cases per 100,000 people to be fewer than 100 for the last 14 days. Fulton County's current rate? 316.2. Atlanta Public Schools have decided to go all-virtual for the first nine weeks. Additionally, our county, which includes part of Atlanta, doesn't meet the federal government's criteria for return to school either. According to the gating criteria from the Coronavirus Task Force, we would have had to pass through two phases, each requiring a 14-day downward trajectory of documented cases and the ability to treat all patients without crisis care. We are simply not there yet," he wrote.



"It is a lot to consider, but in the minds of our family, the evidence is clear. After considering all the objective criteria and assessing the situation in our own community, we have made the decision to keep our girls out of school for the time being. This was not an easy decision, but one that we believe best respects the science, decreases the risk of further spread, and follows the task force criteria," Dr. Gupta explained.

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