COVID policies have caused lost or impaired education for 350 children and young people for each 1 COVID death averted.
Should a society sacrifice the interests of all of its children and young people to prolong the lives of a portion of the oldest and sickest?
In the U.S. we closed almost all schools for the spring of 2020 and most have been and will be closed to in person instruction for all of the 2020-2021 school year.
Children are at almost no risk of dying from COVID. They are at much less risk of dying from COVID than from ordinary influenza each year.* Adults in their 20s are also at less or equivalent risk of dying from COVID than influenza, so college students are also at essentially no risk of dying from COVID and at no greater risk than they are every year of dying from influenza. We closed their schools anyway, and prevented students from playing sports or engaging in choir or other extracurricular activities. Since they were at lower risk from COVID than they are every year from influenza, this was clearly not done for their benefit. We required this sacrifice from children for the sole benefit of those at significant risk of dying from COVID—their grandparents and great grandparents. We sacrificed the interests of children—and not trivial interests but their interest in getting an education like every previous generation got, in normal social development from meeting with and socializing with their peers at school, and in fun and enjoying their lives by socializing with other kids at school and playing with other kids—for the benefit of the oldest and sickest people in society, with very few years of life expectancy remaining.
We have a moral obligation toward our children. They are 100% dependent on us to do what is right for them. They have an absolute right to get an education, to socialize with their peers, to be allowed normal social development, and to play and have fun. We have violated those rights and we have abandoned our responsibilities to them.
And why did we abandon our duties to all of our children and violate those supreme moral duties? Because we were scared by a strain of the flu going around that is 3-1/2 times deadlier than ordinary influenza and shortens the lives of 0.1% of the population by 4 years on average.
This bogles my mind. I cannot fathom how anyone, let alone teachers and parents and apparently the majority of society, could believe this was morally justified, let alone a good idea.
We should also note that closing the schools to in person instruction will worsen the black/white and rich/poor educational achievement gaps. Students who are motivated to learn, have educated parents who can teach them, and have two parents with some money so one can stay home with the child will be less harmed by closing the schools than children without some or all of those advantages.
I have never seen any official even deign to articulate the reasons why schools needed to be closed. It is just stated that “it was necessary” or “this is for safety.” Safety of whom? Not the children. As I have stated, they are at lower risk from COVID than they are from ordinary influenza.
At the least if officials are going to inflict this harm on every child and college student in America, they can do us the courtesy of explaining very clearly, with actual data, facts, and articulated reasoning, why they believe this is necessary and why the benefits of this step exceed the harms and justify us abandoning our moral duty to children in our care.
How do the numbers work out? There are 62 million Americans age 5 to 19. For age 6 to 18 it is about 53 million. There are about 19 million college students in the U.S. So altogether about 70 million students in K-12 and colleges and universities. Seventy million divided by 200,000 COVID deaths averted is 350 students whose schooling and social development and enjoyment of childhood or young adulthood has been severely impaired per one COVID death averted.**
* 47 children age 5-14 have died from COVID in the U.S. according to the CDC, whereas in the 2017-2018 flu season 528 children age 5-17 died from influenza, also according to the CDC.
** And it is not clear that closing the schools has reduced COVID spread or prevented any or very many COVID deaths, so this does not mean that keeping 350 children out of school saved one person from COVID death. Our estimate of 200,000 COVID deaths averted is based on all of the restrictions, including closing workplaces, bars, restaurants, health clubs, and mandatory mask wearing, as well as closing schools. It is not clear that closing schools contributed significantly or at all to reducing the spread of COVID. For one thing, children almost always have no or very mild symptoms of COVID when infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and research has shown that asymptomatic people transmit COVID very rarely if at all (reference 1). The same article also found that children were significantly less likely to transmit COVID within the household than adults were (reference 1).
Madewell, ZJ et al. 2020. Household Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open 2020;3(12):e2031756. https://doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.31756