Closing schools: what science says

The Irish government announced this week, like that of Quebec, the closure of all schools in order to slow the progress of Covid-19. This inspired the following comments from British infectious disease specialists, which we have translated. It should be noted that not all countries are at the same stage of the epidemic, and that all the comments are not applicable to all countries, but we believe that a part can still clarify the situation in Quebec.
Professor Jimmy Whitworth, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:

“I am skeptical about school closings. I have not seen conclusive evidence that children are the engine of contagion here, and school closings are causing social disruption. If it were part of a range of measures aimed at reducing crowds [this is the case in Quebec but apparently not in Ireland, note], that would make more sense. But I wouldn’t target schools in particular. ”

Dr Charlotte Jackson, MRC Clinical Trials Unit, UCL:

“Choosing whether or not to close schools, from when and for how long are not easy decisions. There is evidence about influenza showing that slowing contact between children can slow transmission. The effects of this kind of measure are greatest when the infection rates are higher in children, even if that does not mean that there would be no effect if these rates are higher in d ‘other age groups. Another important factor is: how the contact patterns change when the schools are closed. Are they pretty isolated at home, do they still come into contact with other children, and perhaps even with other age groups who may be more vulnerable.

“There are also major drawbacks to school closings. Parents may have to miss work and lose income. In addition to the impact on families, it can worsen disruption by adding to absenteeism due to illness. (…) E-learning solutions may not work well for everyone. And it can be more difficult for some children than for others. ”

Keith Neal, epidemiology and infectious diseases, University of Nottingham:

“It is too early to say whether this is a sensible precaution or an overreaction. Different countries are at different stages of the epidemic, so what one country does does not have to apply to others. We must be guided by local epidemiology and by science. This is the reason why the UK has not taken such measures so far. (…)

School closings come with a number of known consequences, some of which can make matters worse:

Reduction in the number of health and social care workers because some of them have to stay home to take care of children.
More grandparents looking after children, when it is precisely this age group that is most at risk.
More children traveling to different parts of the city than if they had all been to school.
Children do not appear to be seriously affected by COVID-19 and we do not yet know what role they play in the spread of the virus. (…)

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