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Horowitz: American Academy of Pediatrics backtracks on science about opening schools amid teachers union revolt

If you are looking for the quintessential example of how our response to coronavirus is being driven by politics, not prudence or science, look no further than the sudden and inexplicable flip-flop of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on reopening schools.

The anatomy of a political flip-flop and the politicization of our children

In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) put out an unambiguous statement “strongly” advocating “that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” It noted, based on all the available research, that not only are children not at risk from the virus, but they do not contribute to community spread. “Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2.”

This is not the type of statement that can change over the course of a few weeks. It’s built upon consistent data from the beginning of the year showing that children are less vulnerable to COVID-19 and contribute less to its community spread than that of the flu. But as I lamented at the time, barely anyone in the media covered the AAP’s statement because it didn’t fit the narrative of the cult of coronavirus panic.

In the ensuing days, as more states discussed reopening schools, teachers’ unions throughout the country have vigorously protested. You know, they so much want to be teachers that they want to ensure schools are shut. Once this became a political circus, the AAP dropped all its science and prudence and gave in to the pressure. Something interesting happens when people like President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis support reopening schools. That becomes an untenable position for any “prestigious” institution to hold. If Trump and DeSantis voiced support for children playing with puppies, the Left and the media would find something wrong with that too.

On Friday, the AAP published “updated” guidance on reopening schools, with a completely changed tune. In a press release announcing the update, the Academy is clearly responding to President Trump’s call for reopening when it stresses the need for local decision-making: “Local school leaders, public health experts, educators and parents must be at the center of decisions about how and when to reopen schools, taking into account the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and the capacities of school districts to adapt safety protocols to make in-person learning safe and feasible.”

While the updated guidance still says the Academy "strongly advocates" for the "goal of having students physically present in school," the press release, which was designed to speak to the media, clearly waters down the original, unqualified call for schools to open. It adds that “schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local expertsA one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return to school decisions.”

Gee, what changed in just a few weeks? Has the fatality rate or transmissibility among kids gone up? Nope. It’s just “orange man bad.” The AAP took a swipe at Trump’s threat to cut off federal funding to schools that fail to reopen:

Reopening schools in a way that maximizes safety, learning, and the well-being of children, teachers, and staff will clearly require substantial new investments in our schools and campuses. We call on Congress and the administration to provide the federal resources needed to ensure that inadequate funding does not stand in the way of safely educating and caring for children in our schools. Withholding funding from schools that do not open in person fulltime would be a misguided approach, putting already financially strapped schools in an impossible position that would threaten the health of students and teachers.

The AAP asserts, “Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools,” but offers no scientific data to explain its flip-flop or its veiled attack on Trump for taking the position the AAP itself staked out before it became political.

Of course, unlike the original statement, which reflected the AAP’s true belief, untainted by politics, this one was picked up by the media everywhere.

Why is it that every time conservatives cite a prestigious institution, that institution is forced to walk back its position? We saw this recently with Michigan State researchers walking back research showing police shoot more white people per capita than black people after it was cited in essays by prominent conservatives.

The science is settled on low risk to and from children  

Just how absurd is shutting schools for COVID-19? A study from the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 13,837 children are hospitalized every year due to playground accidents, three times the number that have been hospitalized for COVID-19, and children have less of a chance of dying from COVID-19 than from getting struck by lightning. In fact, children 5-14 are 24 times more likely to die from homicide than from COVID-19, and that is unfortunately a growing concern in America’s inner cities.

Here is a powerful presentation from Yinon Wiess showing the risk (or lack thereof) of COVID-19 to children in the scheme of different ways they could die throughout the school year.

We need not speculate about the ability of school children to live normally during coronavirus. Sweden never closed its primary schools. The results? According to one analysis, at most only 14 children in Stockholm were hospitalized for what could possibly have been COVID-related ailments, and only one child with serious underlying conditions who tested positive wound up dying, “but the relevance for the outcome is unclear since other pathogens were also identified in post-mortem testing.”

A report by the Public Health Agency of Sweden found no measurable difference of outcomes in children between Sweden and Finland, even though Finland closed its schools. “Closure or not of schools had no measurable direct impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school-aged children in Finland or Sweden,” concluded the report, even though Sweden, in general, had more cases among the population than Finland. “The negative effects of closing schools must be weighed against the positive indirect effects it might have on the mitigation of the covid-19 pandemic.”

They also found that the comparison “does not show any increased risk for teachers” because “the role of children in propagating this infection is likely to be small.”

Numerous countries have conducted studies that have yet to find child-to-adult transmission (UKAustraliaSwitzerlandCanadaNetherlandsFrance, Ireland and Taiwan), but the most painstaking study is the one conducted by Iceland. Researchers sequenced all the genomes from samples of every positive case and tracked the mutation patterns. They concluded that “even if children do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults. We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents.”

It’s not that it’s impossible for children to ever transmit to adults, but the contribution of children is likely so low that it makes no sense to socially isolate and abuse them as part of any mitigation strategy.

As an article in the AAP’s own medical journal stated, “Evidence and experience argue that children, particularly school-aged children, are far less important drivers of SCoV2 transmission than adults.” In the article, titled, “COVID-19 Transmission and Children: The Child Is Not to Blame,” the authors concluded, “Therefore, serious consideration should be paid toward strategies that allow schools to remain open, even during periods of COVID-19 spread.”

If anything, this will allow countries to achieve herd immunity quicker through the lowest-risk population while assuming a level of risk that is lower than what we blissfully accept every flu season without batting an eyelash.

So, what sort of science is the AAP suddenly examining? The science of mob rule.

Last week, the United Teachers Los Angeles published a list of demands before schools can reopen, including mandatory mask-wearing, tiny class sizes, and impossible logistics to facilitate more social isolation.

What is the science driving these demands more than during any flu season? Who knows, but it’s likely the same science driving the other list of demands in its publication, which include: Medicare for all, a wealth tax, defunding the police, and financial aid for illegal aliens.

Truth be told, they are not wrong. There is just as much science behind closing schools until the police are abolished as there is behind closing them until the virus is eradicated. Which is why the only way to get the truth about a medical or scientific question is to study the literature published before the issue became political.

Editor's note: This article has been updated for clarity.

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