Across the country, schools have outlined the precautions they’ll take as they reopen their campuses this fall. If and when kids return, schools are planning outdoor “mask breaks” in Denver, one-way hallways in Northern Virginia, and shortened in-person school weeks in New York City, among many, many other safeguards against coronavirus outbreaks.
Included in these reopening plans are a number of measures whose implementation will fall to students themselves. The basic trinity of pandemic safety—distancing, hand-washing, and masking—dictates a new set of cautious behaviors that will be expected of children on school grounds. Kids will also be expected to refrain from many once-normal activities—hugging, sharing toys, trading food at lunchtime, and so on. K–12 students may generally be capable of doing what public-health experts ask, but not all of them, not everything, and not all the time.
Reopening schools certainly poses risks to students, their families, and school staff, but what’s known about children and coronavirus transmission is “still really incomplete,” Ravi Jhaveri, a doctor at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and a pediatrics professor at Northwestern University’s medical school, told me. Still, he said, the existing scientific evidence indicates that kids under 10 are less likely to contract COVID-19 than teenagers and adults. They also may spread the virus less readily than older people, though researchers don’t know that for certain. (They may learn more about all this as the fall progresses, based on what happens to infection rates in different communities where schools reopen.)