The report was published online Sept. 1 in the journal BMJ .
It’s not surprising that the risk to teachers is not higher than other groups, said Douglas Harris, Schlieder Foundation Chair in public education at Tulane University in New Orleans, and director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.
In schools where masks and social distancing are mandated, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is cut dramatically, he said.
“I think, for the most part, schools are handling it in a sensible way and I think, for the most part, it’s sensible keeping the kids in school when it’s safe,” Harris said.
Of course, vaccination is the key to beating the pandemic, he added.
“I think in the U.S., there’s an ongoing debate about whether vaccines can be mandated. That’s the elephant in the room. I think that that almost has to happen if we’re really going to get back to normal,” Harris said.
Harris believes that school systems should mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers and all students, including young children once a vaccine has been approved.
“We already do that for, for children, they’re already required to get vaccinated for other things,” he said. “It’s hard to see why you wouldn’t require it. In this case and really that is the only way we get back to normal, this could go on for years.”
As more adults are vaccinated, the virus will attack mostly the unvaccinated, especially children, Harris said.
But everything should be done to minimize the spread of the virus and keep schools open, he said.
“There are health consequences to closing schools,” Harris said. “We tend to focus on the immediate effect of schools opening and spreading the virus, which is clearly important and probably the first consideration, but when you close the schools you create a new set of problems, mental illness and child abuse, and all sorts of economic side effects.”
For more on COVID-19 and schools, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: David McAllister, MD, MPH, professor, clinical epidemiology and medical informatics, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Scotland; Douglas Harris, PhD, professor, economics, and Schlieder Foundation Chair, public education, Tulane University, New Orleans, and director, Education Research Alliance for New Orleans; BMJ , Sept. 1, 2021, online