School-age children are not immune to COVID-19 and children in Tennessee have died. Boards of Education need to be very cautious in any attempt to open schools either fully or partially. Their main source of information should come from medical professionals and not from parents who lack knowledge of an infectious disease.

Parents have a right to complain at a board meeting; however, Boards of Education should rely on medical evidence of when and if schools can begin opening with limited numbers. The safety of students and employees come first. An infected student or employee can be asymptomatic and can infect many others in a school environment.

The number of all active cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. reached more than 5.5 million and more than 174,000 deaths have been reported. Both are continuing to rise. The virus is going to be with us for some time and the number of deaths will continue to rise. Once the spread starts in a school environment it is difficult to stop and causes anxiety among students, parents and school employees.

The Tennessee Department of Health reports children cases of COVID-19 by age. As of Aug. 13, the number of cases in children in Tennessee ages 0 to 10 years of age was 6,832 and for children 11 to 20 years of age were 16,648. There have been five deaths reported of children in Tennessee from age 0-20 years.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children represent 9.1%, or 406,109, of all cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Tennessee was listed as No. 2 in the country in the listing of states as a percent of cumulative cases that were children. Of all the cumulative cases in Tennessee, 16.5% were in children. Only Wyoming was higher with 16.6%.

Within the past two weeks, new children cases have risen 24% in the United States with the most occurring in the South and West, some due to opening of schools. In Tennessee, 2,099 new cases of school-aged children have been reported in the same time period.

The reason we are seeing the increases in the number of children being reported as active cases is because more testing is currently being performed than at the end of the last school year. When you do more testing, active cases usually increase because individuals are not practicing safety by wearing a mask, frequent washing of hands and keeping a safe distance.

An expert panel organized by the National Academies of Medicine reported that “compared with adults, children who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience asymptomatic infection.” Children, especially younger children who have difficulty in wearing a mask, become carriers of COVID-19 and can transmit the virus to those with whom they come in contact.

A recent study released by the Center for Disease Control found that one-third of children hospitalized with COVID-19 were admitted to an intensive care unit, a rate similar to adults. However, the likelihood of a child landing in the hospital is lower as the total numbers of children cases when compared to adult cases are lower.

The rate of hospitalization for Hispanic children was eight times higher than white children and the rate of Black children was five times higher than White children.

The number of reported cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, or MIS-C, in children at the end of July was 342, including 6 deaths from states reporting data. The MIS-C in children is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.

Many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19. Parents need to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of MIS-C so they can recognize when their child may be in need of medical attention.

Any school system attempting to re-open schools either full or partial need to practice aggressive risk reduction strategies including universal mask wearing, frequent washing of hands, keeping a safe distance from others and healthy building environments. Having a plan is meaningless if a school lacks appropriate supplies and/or a limited number of employees to provide constant cleaning. A healthy building environment means bringing in more outdoor fresh clean air.

If active cases are not declining over a two-week period every day and approaching zero active cases in any community, schools should continue only with virtual learning. It is critical that we not rush to do something that results in spreading this killer virus among the entire population or causes death to any student or school employee.

Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business educator.

Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business educator.

Community Voices columnist Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business educator.

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