Most summer camps have likely already decided whether to open this year. But to the reopening crowd, the call on camp is even easier, since research suggests that the virus is not transmitted as easily outdoors as it is indoors. If camps avoid crowded indoor bunks and dining halls, as well as the potentially contagious toilet clouds in the bathrooms, campers might not have much to worry about. “It’s logical that schools should open in the fall and summer camps, if it’s still possible, should open,” Daniel Halperin, an adjunct professor of public health at the University of North Carolina, told me. “I’m worried about my daughter driving, but I wouldn’t keep her home because there’s a one-out-of-a-million chance that she’s gonna die in a car accident.”
Read: Summer Is Approaching. Bring Camp Back.
I pointed out to Halperin that Israel recently reopened schools and then promptly had to close them again when the virus ripped through classrooms. Four children in Israel have developed COVID-19 related heart problems. Halperin—who wasn’t aware of the four children when I interviewed him—seemed unfazed. After all, those infections are cases, he said. Given how rare COVID-19 deaths are in children, “what’s the likelihood that would actually lead to one death in a child?”
Such rhetoric can sound startling at a time when lots of people—health experts in particular—are being cautious about a return to normalcy. And some are less sanguine about just throwing open the schoolhouse gates. In an opinion article he co-authored for JAMA, Josh Sharfstein, the vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, acknowledged the “urgency” of reopening schools, but said it should be done with some modifications. Kids should be kept six feet apart, drop-offs should be staggered, common areas should be closed, and many extracurriculars should be canceled. Oh yeah, and have your teen wear a mask, won’t you? Sharfstein told me he envisions that, to facilitate social distancing, “kids will be in school one day, out of school the next day; in school one week, out of school the next week.”
And even the reopeners want schools to proceed with caution. Teachers who are older or immunocompromised should be given the option to work in different jobs for the time being, several of them told me. Perhaps reopening could start with younger children, who have a greater need for in-person instruction. Maybe schools in hot-spot areas should remain closed. And if kids start getting sick, Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist at UCLA and a reopener, suggested “hitting pause” on school for a few weeks.
The decision of whether to open up schools is going to take a clear-eyed assessment of all the risks. The way Nuzzo sees it, we have to think about not only the societal health benefits of keeping a generation of kids at home for a year, but also the detriment to kids of doing so. And so far, she thinks we’ve been underestimating the detriment part of the equation.