Closing Schools To Protect Kids Made Them Sick

In the past, parents used their time to worry about contagious diseases such as COVID-19. These included respiratory syncytialvirus, hand, foot, mouth, and strep, and other viruses. The default safety standards were suddenly widened and elevated when COVID-19 was introduced. People’s access was severely limited by lockdowns and school closings as well as other restrictions.

There was one apparent silver lining to all this disruption: Flu circulation in the winter of 2020–21 stayed at an all-time low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2020–21 RSV season failed to materialize as well. Parents who were tired of the pandemic and trying to hold on to hope that their children would not catch a cold from bored or under-socialized children soon realized this. This pandemic could leave a lasting legacy of lower rates for contagious diseases in children.

This hope, however, was not to last. In May and June of 2021 pediatricians observed an unusual, non-seasonal increase in the number of communicable diseases, especially RSV. It was accompanied by hand, foot and mouth disease, which ravaged schools and daycare centers throughout the summer, with obvious boils. Strep throat also got involved. Children were not able to avoid diseases. This catch up wave suggested that they had deferred many of them.

COVID-19-related mitigations, like more frequent sanitizing preschool surfaces, might have helped more to protect against RSV (which is commonly transmitted by contact with contaminated surfaces), than it would to prevent COVID-19. RSV was fatal to children anyway. They became dry, immunological typeling after their isolation.

My door was open to the catch-up waves. My son was first diagnosed with a demon strain hand, foot and mouth disease. This happened on his second birthday. His body was covered in hundreds of liquid-filled, bubble-y-filled-blisters for more than seven days. My son spent the majority of his time crying and refused food. Although it is not considered to be fatal, the illness can cause severe symptoms.

My younger son and daughter started coughing shortly after. While I was playing cartoons, my son and daughter started coughing up. When testing showed that their children had RSV, other parents also sent celebratory messages. It was hard to believe that RSV could be so dangerous for kids than COVID-19. We just watched it happen: It’s likely that they caught RSV while at school. However, even if COVID-19 was used, there would not have been any other options.

A lot of people didn’t know when or if their children had RSV before the pandemic. This was only one of many unavoidable, ambiguous colds that we had to deal with at home. Tim Porter is a Austin pediatrician who founded Modern Pediatrics. He explained that RSV testing can help make decisions about the few children who are admitted to hospital. However, it doesn’t provide any real benefits for other kids. RSV testing is not offered by his practice.

While increased testing can be both a sign and cause of parent anxiety, this catch-up wave does not reflect an illusion that more testing is causing. According to CDC monitoring, cases of children hospitalized were way up this summer—not just above the anomalous 2020 baseline, but above ordinary summers in recent history. This elevated level was closer to an average winter’s.

The basic facts about immunity remain the same, despite recent concerns over COVID-19 levels. These surges in childhood illnesses were almost inevitable, and should have been predicted by pediatricians and immunologists. The people at the top seemed to overlook or minimize the possible costs of these edicts.

It turns out that isolation doesn’t put your immune system in limbo. Sometimes immunity is a matter of “use it, or lose it.” Children with partial immunity to contagious diseases were not allowed to Zoom in on their school campuses, so they missed opportunities to get exposed. The result was the reverse of herd immunity, a group of children with suboptimal immune system.

Leaders can make hard, transparent and fair decisions to trade the good of one individual for another. Leadership can close schools “to safeguard children’s safety” but not when the school is doing anything to do so.