How should schools reopen? Expert suggests wearing face mask is safest thing to do

ByKristen Sze and Eric Shackelford KGO logo
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
How should schools reopen? Expert suggests wearing mask is safest thing to do
Schools in Israel and Melbourne, Australia reported a huge increase in COVID-19 cases after resuming classes. Scientist Jeremy Howard talks about the international outbreak at schools and the importance of wearing face masks.

SAN FRANCICO (KGO) -- This question is on the mind of just about every parent: "How can schools reopen safely?"

As the debate continues in the U.S., we're seeing this play out in real-time around the world.

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Jeremy Howard, data scientist at USF, says Israel had nearly wiped out COVID-19 and were down to 10 active cases. Then schools reopened and cases are now growing "out of control", Howard said.

"Israel did a lot of things right. They did a lockdown at schools and then they gradually brought schools back in a safe way, small classes that didn't interact at all. They did it for two weeks, and then against the guidance of their health experts, the government said everything is open. Within a month, massive outbreaks."

Howard said there is a very similar situation happening in his hometown Melbourne, Australia. The schools there focused on sanitizing but did not require masks and reported that social distancing was "poor." In Israel, reports suggest masks were not widely used as well.

Howard suggests one of the safest things to do when kids are in school is to have them wear masks.

"Kids can wear masks. My four-year-old daughter refuses not to wear a mask," Howard said. "When you wear a mask that droplet cloud, that germ cloud, is smaller."

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If everyone wore a mask, Dr. Bob Wachter said California would squash the surge of new coronavirus cases it's seeing right now. The state is seeing new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climb every day.

Howard also responded to the argument that kids don't get sick.

"Kids almost never get significant enough symptoms that they end up as a recorded case, so there's a huge amount of unrecorded transmission in kids," Howard said.

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He referred to Sweden not closing down the school system and said Sweden health officials did a survey and tested people at random.

"Turned out, kids had about as much COVID-19 as adults did," Howard said. "The transmission was just as bad. We have no reason to believe that those kids can't then pass it onto their teachers, parents and grandparents just as easily as adults."

Howard acknowledges what every school district is experiencing - that reopening is complicated, but Howard says masks help.

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