Image
Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

For many parents, the most pressing question as the nation emerges from pandemic lockdown is when they can send their children to school, camp or child care.

We asked more than 500 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists when they expect to restart 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the coronavirus pandemic and the public health response to it unfold as they expect. On sending children to school, camp or child care, 70 percent said they would do so either right now, later this summer or in the fall — much sooner than most said they would resume other activities that involved big groups of people gathering indoors. Others, though, said they would wait for a vaccine, which could take a year or more.

Some expanded on their thoughts. They said they were assessing regional data, like the rate of infection transmission in their area, and the safety measures schools are taking. They’re also considering their own situations, like their family’s health risks, their work demands and their children’s academic, social and emotional lives. Several said school was so important — both for their own careers and for their children’s development — that they were willing to take a risk that they would not for something less valuable.

Epidemiologists’ informal motto is “It depends.” They cautioned that they might change their planning depending on these and other variables. Their estimates are not advice, but the range of their responses and the comments below give a sense of how experts are considering this difficult question in their lives.

Here are comments from three epidemiologists about how they are considering the issue:

“Children are relatively safe. I would worry about teachers.”
Lisa Herrinton, Kaiser Permanente
Didn’t have children in school/child care before coronavirus
“I think it would be really stupid to reopen the schools in September, given the present course of things. Really. Stupid.”
Carl V. Phillips, Epiphi Consulting
Would wait until winter
“Unlike dining out, there is a far more substantial cost to keeping kids out of school.”
Arijit Nandi, McGill University
Would do it this fall

And here are comments from 130 more:


These responses were gathered in the last week of May 2020. About 6,000 epidemiologists were invited to participate in the survey, which was circulated to the membership of the Society for Epidemiologic Research and to individual scientists.

More than three-quarters of the panel said their daily work was connected with the Covid-19 pandemic in some way. Nearly three-quarters work in academia, 10 percent work in government, and the remainder work for nonprofit groups, private companies or as health care providers.