The Israeli Public Emergency Council for the Covid19 Crisis
To:

Members of the Education Committee

Continued Operation of the Education System during the Corona Crisis

Honorable Members,

 

Three factors should be considered when examining the ramifications of opening or closing down the education system when public restrictions are implemented with the objective of reducing Covid-19 infections:

        1. Children as a cause of transmission.
        2. The risk posed to children infected with the virus.
        3. The harm caused to children resulting from closure of the education system.

Children as a cause of infection

Studies from around the world have consistently shown that children are less likely to be infected and even less likely to transmit the virus to others (particularly adults). A meta-analysis found that a child’s chance of contracting the virus is 50% lower than that of an adult. According to the American Center for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of infection in children is less than 2% of all cases. Furthermore, in other countries (such as Sweden, where the education system was open continuously, and Australia) morbidity rates in children appear to be negligible relative to their proportion of the population. A recent study by the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) shows that schools are not the ‘platform’ that drives community infection. Schools do not increase COVID-19 infection but rather represent the community’s cumulative ‘background infection’ at that time. Research indicates that the primary cause of viral transmissions is in homes and the community, and that children are not a significant accelerator of transmission of COVID-19, in contrast to seasonal flu and colds where children constitute a major transmission factor. A report surveying 191 countries found no association between opening schools and a rise in morbidity or correlations linking the two. In Israel, Ministry of Health data presents a similar picture. Regarding Israeli data, the table shows that the “infection propellant” is found significantly in confirmed infected subjects in the 18 years and above age group – about 80% of all infections of known transmission are caused by adults. Moreover, about 90% of cases of infection in adults with known origin were caused by other adults, and not by children.

 

The risk for children infected with COVID19

In all countries around the world, it has been reported that serious morbidity and mortality are rare among children. According to numerous studies, children show higher resistance than adults to an identical viral load. According to the CDC, the rate of symptoms in children is very low: only 11% of children diagnosed as carriers reported symptoms. PIMS syndrome (or MISC), which presents a dramatic picture of the disease in children infected with the virus and which initially caused great concern, seems to be extremely rare. According to the CDC, COVID-19 mortality rates among children are lower than those of influenza.

COVID-19 mortality at the age of 15 is 1000 times lower than at the age of 80. In Israel, 3 children under the age of 17 were officially reported to have died from COVID-19, which turned out to be over-reported in at least one of the cases in which a 6-year-old girl in the Palestinian governed areas died not from COVID-19 (as reported by the hospital). This situation is unfolding when in Israel, an average of more than 10 children die each year from complications associated with similar illnesses like influenza.

 

Damaging effects to children caused by the closure of the education system

A survey examining the impact of school closures around the world shows that this step has a marginal effect on mortality but causes very severe economic damage to industry.

A study conducted by Tel Aviv University’s Laboratory for the Study of Infectious Diseases, that was based on cellphone movement data, revealed that closing schools may actually increase the number of pandemic victims. According to the ECDC, school closures have significant negative consequences for children, both for physical and mental health, beyond the harm caused to their education.

Worldwide and Israeli reports showed an increase in the use of addictive substances, the consumption of “screen time”, violence, obesity, eating disorders, mental distress, and suicide. Similarly, various testimonies found impairment in the development of social skills and increasing social disparities. Shown in the included graph is the influence of closing the education system on students’ academic performance in mathematics, an area in which the weaker socio-economic groups are most adversely affected. The closure of the education system has a decisive socio-economic impact, as it prevents parents from going to work and impairs family emotional stability and livelihood.

 

Summary

The data which has been gathered worldwide and in Israel indicates that children are less infectious, less infected, and less affected even when infected. Furthermore, closing the education system leads to significant harm in terms of health, mental health, well-being, and exacerbates social disparities. Accordingly, in most European countries in which the authorities decided to impose another lockdown, it was decided to leave the schools open, without any preconditions of mass COVID testing of either children or staff.

The ECDC concludes that closing schools should be a last resort, one implemented only after all other measures to slow morbidity have been exhausted.

Accordingly, the Emergency Council supports the Knesset Education Committee’s decision to open the entire education system.

Signed,

Public Emergency Council for the Covid19 Crisis