The following editorial appeared in the Register-Herald of Beckley, West Virginia, a CNHI newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Times-News.
When Gov. Jim Justice makes the call to open classroom doors to the state’s 272,000 students this fall, he will get one shot to do it right — and our kids and teachers can’t afford for the governor to be wrong.
Children are not immune to being infected by this highly virulent coronavirus. Neither are teachers. So far, the disease has claimed nearly 135,000 lives in the U.S. alone — more than 562,000 worldwide. While available evidence indicates the direct impact of COVID-19 on child and adolescent mortality to be very limited, children are not in those classrooms without adult supervision. Our kids come in contact with a good many adults during a day at school — to say nothing of their interactions when they arrive home after the last bell has rung.
While we are on board with those who are pushing for an opening, because kids need their schooling and all the good that comes from it emotionally as well as educationally, the state must take every precaution before doing so. That will take a plan, it will take money, it will take more space and it will take improved behavior — like wearing a mask — by adults.
The pressure to bring students back to school is real. The calculus is fraught with potential failure, especially with infections spiking in so many communities.
This is all coming at a time when U.S. citizens are proving themselves poorly disciplined about wearing a mask, to say nothing about their lack of patience with staying at home when there is no earthly reason — in some instances — to be out and about.
As a consequence, the U.S. is getting slammed, setting new records most days for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases — including right here in wild and wonderful West Virginia. Over the past week, the Department of Health and Human Resources reported 941 new cases — a seven-day average of 134.43 — including its three highest single-day totals.
What about children?
According to research by the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, children of all ages can become ill with COVID-19. But most kids who are infected typically don’t become as sick as adults. Some may not show any symptoms at all.
But some do get sick and, yes, some who are infected can be asymptomatic.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among nearly 150,000 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. between Feb. 12 and April 2, about 2,500, or 1.7 percent, were in children. Other countries are reporting similar findings.
However, people of any age with certain underlying conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, are at higher risk of serious illness, according to the CDC. It should give everyone pause to consider that 34 percent of West Virginia children, ages 10 to 17 in 2019, were considered clinically obese, according to United Health Foundation.
Plus, no nation has tried to send children back to school with the virus raging at levels like America’s, so the research about transmission in classrooms is thin. In short, we do not know.
What we do know about this virus is that the World Health Organization has concluded that it is airborne in crowded, indoor spaces with poor ventilation. And that is a pretty apt description of many American schools.
As is being planned in West Virginia, the solution may not be an all-or-nothing approach.
Miller Hall, the newly elected president of the state Board of Education, said plans are in the works to let school districts choose what model best suits them, from some form of regular attendance to virtual learning to remote sessions.
But let’s do what we can, what we must, so that we can open the school doors again.
This is on the adults in the room.