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Virologist: Despite unclear data, still ‘dangerous’ to assume schools will be safe

Custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

With schools getting ready to resume, there’s still a good deal of uncertainty over whether it’s safe to send children back into classrooms. Columbia virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen weighed in on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show on what exactly might be in store come fall.

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“The data right now on whether children can transmit the virus to others in their household is somewhat unclear,” Dr. Rasmussen said. “I do think that there is data that exists [that] shows that, at least for some children, fortunately in rare cases, but for some children, this virus can be deadly.”

Even so, one recent study cites research from China, France, Switzerland, and Australia showing that infected children do not seem to spread the disease to each other, or to their teachers.

That contradicts other research about how COVID-19 might spread in schools in the fall. Dr. Rasmussen points out that there’s still an inherent risk involved in sending kids back to school, based purely on the fact that the virus can still be prevalent in younger populations.

“There have been conflicting studies that suggest that children can transmit the virus just as efficiently as adults,” she said. “There are others that suggest that children may be less likely to transmit it within their home. But one thing is for sure: Children can be infected with this virus.”

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“That has been demonstrated in several studies now,” she added. “I think that it is dangerous to assume that because most children don’t get as sick as adults, or don’t have any symptoms at all, that it is completely safe to reopen schools.”

Rasmussen also notes that the bigger issue is that community transmission across all demographics is too high for schools to resume in person.

“It is not safe to reopen schools as long as there is high levels of transmission in the community; schools are part of communities,” she said.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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