Ethics of COVID-19-related school closures
Michael Silverman; Robert Sibbald; Saverio Stranges
Published: August 2020
Journal: Canadian Journal of Public Health
COVID-19 mitigation strategies have led to widespread school closures around the world. Initially, these were undertaken based on data from influenza outbreaks in which children were highly susceptible and important in community-wide transmission. An argument was made that school closures were necessary to prevent harm to vulnerable adults, especially the elderly. Although data are still accumulating, the recently described complication, pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, is extremely rare and children remain remarkably unaffected by COVID-19. We also do not have evidence that children are epidemiologically important in community-wide viral spread. Previous studies have shown long-term educational, social, and medical harms from school exclusion, with very young children and those from marginalized groups such as immigrants and racialized minorities most affected. The policy and ethical implications of ongoing mandatory school closures, in order to protect others, need urgent reassessment in light of the very limited data of public health benefit.