By Alex Topor
With local school districts preparing to welcome students back in the coming weeks, the county health department has released data showing children are less likely to contract COVID-19.
Most area districts are allowing parents of students to choose between in-person classes with safety precautions, online classes or a hybrid of the two.
The decision making process has been difficult according to Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD).
“I have been on lots of calls with school districts and they have all given this really careful consideration. They are trying hard to balance the risks of opening in-person classes versus not opening,” Bogen said in an Aug. 12 press conference.
“We know that in-person education would be the preference for everyone and people are trying very hard to meet that as best they can within the limits of their resources, staff and buildings. Overall the goal is to keep people safe — the children, staff and community.”
As of Aug. 13, children ages 0-9 make up 2% of all COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County while ages 10-19 make up 7%, according to ACHD data.
Critics argue the reason COVID-19 numbers among children are so low is because schools have been closed since the pandemic hit the country. Proponents state childcare centers have been open throughout with no spike of cases locally.
“We've had the childcare centers open throughout the pandemic and we haven't seen huge numbers of cases in those centers. With staff and kids wearing masks they've done a great job of limiting the spread,” Bogen said. “If we can follow all the guidelines put in place then we shouldn't see enormous spread in schools like we haven't seen in childcare centers.”
A joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, also states children are less likely to contract the coronavirus. As of July 30, there have been 7,740 people ages 18 and younger who contracted the virus in Pennsylvania.
That number represents about 7% of all cases. Nationwide, children account for 8.8% of total cases or 338,982 children.
“The information around children and COVID-19 continues to change. Children definitely can get it and in the last month about 100,000 children have gotten it,” Bogen said.
“They tend to have a less severe illness but there are still severe cases. It's controversial if they spread it less.”
Not only do the statistics show that children are contracting the coronavirus at a lower rate, but the mortality rate is lower among people 18 and younger.
Only 0.0 to 0.8% of all deaths related to the virus nationwide were children, according to the report. Also, only 0.0 to 0.3% of children that tested positive died and 20 states reported zero deaths, Pennsylvania included.
Locally, most districts are requiring students and staff to wear masks while inside or when social distancing is a challenge.
Traffic patterns in hallways and student seating will also be changed to lessen the chance of spread.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald agrees school districts have worked diligently on plans for reopening, but said plans will only work if they’re followed.
“The issue is will staff and kids wear the masks all day. The plans are only as good as the cooperation from parents, teachers, staff and everyone doing what needs to be done,” Fitzgerald said. “As we go into this critical time we really need people to be cooperative and work together.”