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U.S. Authorities Debate School Closures Amid Coronavirus Outbreaks

Amanda Ross - Author
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Mar. 6 2020, Updated 10:08 a.m. ET

A petition to close schools during the coronavirus outbreak has begun circulating online. As of Friday, the petition has been granted more than 20,000 signatures, but as Reuters reports, some school officials are against U.S. school closures, believing the closures could make things worse.

“School closures can be disruptive and costly for families,” a statement from Lake Washington School District in Seattle read. The statement added that closures should not occur unless risks of COVID-19 exposure exist. To date, 11 people have died in the state of Washington from the coronavirus.

Jeffrey Dunchin, the health officer for King County, spoke out about school closures in Seattle.

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“Do we really want to close schools or do we want to keep schools open so faculty can continue to come in and serve children?”

Seattle resident Andrew Davidoff, one of the petition’s signees, has been vocal about wanting schools to close. He said that even though coronavirus seems to have limited effects on children, “they will be spreading it to vulnerable parents.”

More than 56 million school-aged children live in the United States and having even a portion of these children stay home could impact more than just the spread of the coronavirus. Because schools often provide lunches, after school programs, and more, parents in low-income families or without the option to take sick leave may struggle to find a solution.

Additionally, school closures may not have the desired effect of reducing the spread of coronavirus. Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael Osterholm believes that children not in school, and who may congregate in public spaces or be sent to elderly caregivers’ homes, may spread the virus to more vulnerable populations. Since the virus has only been reported in 2.1 percent of children under the age of 19 in China, Osterholm believes the best place for children to be is at school.

“If kids are not getting infected and they’re not getting sick, then the last thing you want to do is shut down a school.”

Still, many proponents of school closures believe that keeping schools open is what will make it easier for children to spread the virus amongst their community and loved ones.

The consistent increase in coronavirus cases has people thinking about more than school closures after a study conducted by the Australian National University claims that as many as 15 million people will die from the coronavirus epidemic across the world. In addition to the number of fatalities writers of the study dub a “low-end” global pandemic, the study also claims that the coronavirus will have a tremendous effect on global economies.

“These estimated deaths from COVID-19 can be compared to a regular influenza season in the United States, where around 55,000 people die each year,” the study claimed.

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