Is reopening schools dangerous for senior citizens?


AUSTIN (KXAN) — As students nationwide prepare to possibly return to campuses in-person for the first time since pandemic shutdowns, one unlikely concern has arisen — students transmitting COVID-19 to senior citizens.

About 3.3 million Americans 65 years old or older live in households with school age children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2018 calculations.

While the Centers for Disease Control says current data doesn’t indicate that children are at high risk of contracting the disease, the question of whether they can be responsible for wide spread still remains.

As of now, there simply isn’t enough data to say they do or they don’t.

Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, Chief of Critical Care at Texas’ Children’s Hospital says that the answer to whether children carry and spread the virus is certain.

“I think the answer is conclusively, without a doubt — yes,” Shekerdemian told USA Today.

She explained that surveillance screening — which tests all children admitted to a hospital — showed a higher percentage of kids carrying COVID-19 but not showing symptoms.

“There’s no doubt they can be asymptomatic. Do they carry [the virus] more often than adults?” she said. “That’s a hard one to answer. There isn’t enough surveillance going on in the community.”

She said that while there is not yet enough data to absolutely say asymptomatic spread is happening, a group of University of Texas Austin professors recently published findings that concluded 56% infected are asymptomatic — and spread COVID-19 silently.

In a piece for NPR earlier this week, titled “Kids Get Coronavirus, But Do They Spread It? We’ll Find out When Schools Reopen,” Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said: “Kids don’t seem to be super spreaders.”

Possible Effects on Seniors of Color

KFF also found that while nearly half of older adults living with school-age children are white, older people of color are significantly more likely to live with a school-age child compared to white people of the same age.

KFF reports that COVID-19 has already disproportionately affected people of color in the U.S., and that possible spread via students could be yet another avenue vulnerable people of color are exposed.

Of those counted in the 2018 survey, 730,000 Hispanic American seniors live with a school-age child, while 500,000 Black American seniors do.

Possible effects by state

Texas ranks among the states with the highest numbers of seniors living with school-age kids, according to KFF.

Texas comes in second with number of seniors who live in households with a school-age child, with 321,000.

California ranked first with 590,000 and Florida was third with 279,000.

KFF summarizes its findings by saying:

“The risk posed by COVID-19 to older family members is just one of the many factors that state and local officials will need to consider as they develop plans to safely reopen schools, but as we’ve shown here, these decisions could affect several million older adults. In addition, these decisions are likely to disproportionately affect older people of color who are more likely than older White adults to live in households with a school-age child.”

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