Because the coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in much of the country, not every school district can bring children and teachers back safely and equitably this fall. But among those that can is Somerville, Massachusetts—the city of about 80,000 just northwest of Boston where my family and I live. After a biotech conference in late February spread the coronavirus in the Boston area, public officials in Somerville reacted quickly. The city shut down bars and required masks before most other communities did. Residents stayed home. Playgrounds closed. “Avoid playdates,” urged Mayor Joe Curtatone, a progressive who prides himself on making data-driven decisions about the problems that test the city and its residents. We knew our children felt lonely and confused, and still we buckled down.
As the parent of two young children, and as a pediatrician and a child psychiatrist, I saw every day what isolation does to kids. As the surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths hit the Boston area this spring, families such as mine, in Somerville and around the state, did our part to save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19. But after bringing coronavirus transmission down to relatively manageable levels, many communities, including mine, are not yet reopening schools, no matter how essential in-person education is to children’s well-being and no matter what the numbers show. A popular yard sign in Somerville reads, in part, Science is real! That principle should apply not just when shutting everything down, but also when deciding that—at least for the most vulnerable children—life can go on.