Narrative around Covid has to change for our children’s sake
The negative narrative surrounding schools and Covid-19 must change. The Royal Gazette has been complicit in this throughout the pandemic, sensationalising school cases or closures, advocating for Covid “measures” that involve children, and failing to provide any coverage on the detrimental effect of the pandemic restrictions on children.
There is Covid transmission in schools right now because there is widespread transmission in the community. Schools can use evidenced-based measures to try to mitigate spread. But no child should have to quarantine because they were sat masked, at a three-foot-spaced sanitised desk, in their “class bubble”, near a positive Covid case. There are certainly very few adults who would quarantine in such circumstances any more.
On accepting that there will be transmission of Covid in schools, there are two common replies that critics roll out:
1, “Children who catch it in school can pass it to vulnerable adults in their families”
Children who are not at school must be somewhere, and with community transmission so high, they are also very likely to catch Covid from other settings, which will not have all the same measures as schools. Furthermore, every adult has access to a powerful tool to protect themselves from severe Covid illness — vaccination.
2, “Covid is not generally severe in children, but there are exceptions”
This is similarly true for other respiratory illnesses that children catch, for which we have never quarantined, nor even developed vaccines. Fortunately, the over-12s have access to vaccination, which makes the very small risk of serious illness in this age group even smaller. The rate of Covid hospital admissions in the 5-14 age group in Britain in the second week of January was 2.8 per 100,000 population¹, despite Britain having a large Omicron wave, in which the primary-school age group has the highest test positivity rate.
What there is very little recognition of is the cumulative harm to a child with each quarantine or period of remote learning. They are deprived of educational opportunities, life experiences, time with friends, of time doing their favourite sport or activity. It decreases the time they are physically active, increases the time they spend alone, and increases the time spent staring at screens. Children in Bermuda have not had just one lockdown, quarantine or episode of remote learning; they have had multiple, and are now in their third academic year of disrupted education, development and life.
In December 2021, Ofsted, the independent regulator of education and children’s services in Britain, produced its annual report². It concludes with the statement:
“In order to protect older generations, we asked the youngest to put their lives and their education on hold. As we look forward to the year ahead, we must redress the balance. Every generation gets one chance to enjoy its childhood and fulfil its potential. We must do all we can to make sure this generation is not denied its opportunity.”
The milder Omicron variant and vaccination have changed our circumstances. We must stop quarantining asymptomatic children with negative antigen tests. If exposed in school, then we must monitor for symptoms, continue testing, shield the vulnerable from them, and let them live their life.
LAURA MURPHY, MD
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