COVID-19: Schools must reopen, studying at home worse for health - doctors

Children suffering from the consequences of prolonged isolation.

Teachers' submissions for the "Classroom Look in Lockdown" project. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Teachers' submissions for the "Classroom Look in Lockdown" project.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the school system began to reopen on February 11, and preschools and grades 1-4 returned to classrooms in green, yellow and light orange cities, Israeli parents sighed with relief. However, as exciting as going back to learn in person was for children, they were also more exposed to the coronavirus. For all their classmates, and sometimes their families, it meant, not only no school, but quarantine.
According to Education Ministry data, on February 11 some 22,706 schoolchildren were in isolation while 110 schools and 202 daycares remained closed because of coronavirus outbreaks. A week later, on February 18, 22,006 children and 2,887 teachers were in isolation. Three days after that, grades 5-6 and 11-12 resumed in-person learning and last Thursday, the figures climbed to 38,306 students and 4,304 teachers in isolation.
Significantly, ministry reports do not show an increase in new infections among children or teachers: some 20,000 children and 2,100 teachers were infected with the virus on February 11, 15,000 children and 1,500 teachers on February 18 and 12,000 children and 1,075 teachers last Thursday.
The belief that the British variant of the virus targets children more than the regular strain has been said repeatedly by health officials and government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, health specialists told The Jerusalem Post that even if this might be true, going back to in-person learning is absolutely necessary because cases of children getting seriously ill from the virus are extremely rare, while many more are suffering the consequences of prolonged isolation, both physically and mentally.
“What I can say is that we see many children who get infected, but we are not seeing many children getting sick,” Prof. Efi Bilavsky, senior physician in the Department of Pediatrics and a specialist in infectious diseases at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, explained.
Dr. Galia Barkai, head of the Pediatric Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center agreed that while the number of children with COVID-19 is increasing, this very rarely leads to hospitalization.
Both experts pointed out that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases at their hospital are young patients who are hospitalized for other reasons but also happen to be infected with the virus.
“Even in cases of children with severe immune-deficiencies, we rarely see them developing severe symptoms,” Bilavsky pointed out. “On the other hand, we see an increasing number of children suffering severe consequences from being at home instead of in school.”
Other problems like obesity, mental health issues, eating disorders and domestic injuries are becoming more common among young Israelis.
“Opening schools should be the priority over opening other things. The consequences of keeping children at home are far worse,” Barkai emphasized.
“I believe if you ask any pediatrician, they will tell you that school needs to come back,” Bilavsky echoed.
Barkai stressed that teachers must get vaccinated to avoid exposing their students to the virus. “I also hope that the vaccine will be approved for ages 12-15 within two or three months. I believe Pfizer has already recruited all the participants for the clinical trial,” she said.