Top Canadian pediatric hospital: Re-open schools with few restrictions, no masks

Children can return to school with relatively little risk, report says.

Updated: June 18, 2020 - 12:13pm

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A report from the top pediatric hospital in Canada states unequivocally that schools should be re-opened with relatively few restrictions – including no mask mandates – considering the growing evidence that children appear at little risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. 

The report from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto states that "while school closures may have been reasonable as part of the early pandemic response, current evidence and experience support the concept that children can return to school in a manner that maximizes children’s health and minimizes risks from a Public Health perspective."

Evidence indicates that "children may be less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and may be less likely to transmit the virus to others," the report also states. 

The report authors argue that schoolchildren should be allowed to return to their educational routines and environments with minimal modifications. School closures in part have had "significant adverse health and welfare consequences for children," they argue.

Most notably, the report advises against a strict "physical distancing" regime in schools. Global health officials over the past few months have insisted that, wherever possible, people should observe significant "social distancing" rules throughout the course of the pandemic, including keeping three to six feet of distance between individuals at every feasible moment.

Yet strict physical distancing "should not be emphasized to children in the school setting," the report states, "as it is not practical and could cause significant psychological harm."

"Close interaction, such as playing and socializing is central to child development and should not be discouraged," the authors write. Schools "should endeavor to offer as many of their usual clubs and activities as possible," and they should allow children unrestricted contact with each other during playtimes. 

The authors write that smaller class sizes and "cohorting" can be employed as a mitigation measure, but that "the daily school schedule ... should not be disrupted" for either one. 

The report also forcefully rebukes the idea that children should be forced to wear masks when they return to school, something numerous governments throughout the world have ordered in recent weeks. 

It is "not practical for a child to wear a mask properly for the duration of a school day," they argue, further pointing to "a lack of evidence that wearing a face mask prevents SARS-CoV-2 transmission in children."

The report does argue that certain activities such as mass gatherings and sports should be restricted or cancelled for the near future, while schools should also implement rigorous cleaning procedures.

Yet they state that "the best overall strategy ... taking into account the massive secondary adverse health and well-being implication of the lockdown, is to ease restrictions and return to school."

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