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Psychiatrist: People trust public health experts except those telling them to reopen the schools

As schools waver between reopening, going fully remote or embracing a hybrid model, some parents are asking why their own schools cannot reopen.

Elizabeth Pinsky, a parent, pediatrician and child psychiatrist, argues that it’s time for children to “reap the benefits” of the lockdowns and social distancing measures in place for some time now and return to in-person schooling.

In Pinsky’s own town, a suburb of Boston, the mayor has implemented social distancing measures since February.

She writes in The Atlantic:

I saw every day what isolation does to kids. As the surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths hit the Boston area this spring, families such as mine, in Somerville and around the state, did our part to save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19. But after bringing coronavirus transmission down to relatively manageable levels, many communities, including mine, are not yet reopening schools, no matter how essential in-person education is to children’s well-being and no matter what the numbers show.

Her child’s school remains closed for in-person learning, even though the state has a positive test rate of around 2 percent and infectious disease experts have urged schools to reopen.

She asks why, in a town that prides itself on trusting health experts and where a “Science is Real” sign is quite popular, schools are not reopening:

Why do communities trust health experts when they urge the public to wear masks and stay home, but not when they call for sending children back to school? Why did everyone do so much work in April and May if our youngest citizens, whose vulnerability to threats other than the coronavirus is so great, can’t reap the benefits in the fall?

As a pediatrician, Pinsky began seeing more children struggling with mental health issues, which she and parents attributed to a lack of in-person education:

Children with disabilities who depend on specialized schools for services came to the emergency room with aggressive behaviors too dangerous to be managed at home. Other children showed escalating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Suddenly, pediatricians and child psychiatrists were noting many more eating disorders. I saw very young children who were having suicidal thoughts and adolescents who had acted on such impulses and nearly succeeded.

Pinsky points out that while schools remain closed for in-person learning, adult-oriented businesses have reopened.

“While the debate raged on about how likely schoolchildren are to transmit the coronavirus, customers returned to casinos, gyms, and indoor restaurant tables,” she writes.

“The trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations reversed its downward direction and began ticking upward about two weeks after. The resurgence of new cases, now partly subsided, was sad and predictable,” Pinsky added.

Pinsky concluded: “A steadfast refusal to reopen schools doesn’t mean that society will take no risks at all; it just means that the desires of adults, such as gym and casino patrons, will take precedence over the well-being of children.”

Read the essay.

IMAGE: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

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