This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: A misspelling was corrected.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Gov. Kristi Noem cited several sources Tuesday in support of her advocacy for students returning to classrooms in South Dakota this fall.
“The science is very clear on schools. Our children should be in schools,” Noem said on Tuesday.
The four sources were provided to the media by Noem staff member Ian Fury. One source was an opinion piece published in The Hill, one was a research report published by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatric, one was a school re-opening report for a hospital and corporation based in Canada and the fourth was a return to school guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Noem said during Tuesday’s news conference that she would not encourage that school districts require students to wear masks.
Two of Noem’s own sources differ on the benefits of students wearing face coverings.
The June 1 opinion piece by Dr. Scott Atlas and Paul Peterson, both of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, published in the Hill said measures such as social distancing for students and mask wearing by students were not necessary. “All of this borders on the absurd, when we now know that social distancing and face coverings for children are completely unnecessary,” the opinion piece says.
The guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics said that older students could benefit from wearing face coverings while it may be more difficult for younger students to wear face coverings.
“School staff and older students (middle or high school) may be able to wear cloth face coverings safely and consistently and should be encouraged to do so,” the guideline said. “If not developmentally feasible, which may be the case for younger students, and cannot be done safely (eg, the face covering makes wearers touch their face more than they otherwise would), schools may choose to not require their use when physical distancing measures can be effectively implemented.”
A third source cited by Noem, the June 17 report on re-opening schools in Canada for The Hospital for Sick Children, says face coverings should not be required in schools because there is lack of evidence that wearing a face covering prevents COVID-19 spread in children. The report also says that children may have difficulty properly wearing the mask and taking the mask off and putting it back on, which would transmit the coronavirus.
Although the Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus, it also said there are challenges to students wearing masks in schools.
The CDC includes face covering advice in its re-opening schools guidelines but says face coverings could be a challenge for students and schools, “particularly for younger students and students with special healthcare or educational needs.”
“While cloth face coverings are strongly encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDC recognizes there are specific instances when wearing a cloth face covering may not be feasible,” the CDC school guidelines said.
The CDC, the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic, two Sanford researchers involved in the WHO recommendation and Johns Hopkins are among those who recommend wearing face coverings as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Noem said that knowledge about COVID-19 is increasing as much more is known today than in March. Science shows that children do not become as ill as adults if they get the coronavirus and that they are not as likely to transmit COVID-19 to adults, Noem said.
Research on how sick children with COVID-19 get seems consistent while data shared about how children can transmit COVID-19 is less consistent, especially research shared more recently.
“Children of all ages can become ill with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). But most kids who are infected typically don’t become as sick as adults and some might not show any symptoms at all,” the Mayo Clinic said on July 21.
A May 13 article published by Johns Hopkins said “At present, the disease seems to be much milder in babies and children.”
Based on research from several countries, “transmission in schools may be less important in community transmission than initially feared,” a July report published online on Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said.
“These data all suggest that children are not significant drivers of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report published in Pediatrics said. “It is unclear why documented SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) transmission from children to other children or adults is so infrequent.”
However, report information shared July 29 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, said “(children) are capable of transmitting to both children and adults.”
The Kaiser review also said “What remains unclear and where evidence is still needed is: whether children are less likely to be infected than adults and, when infected, the frequency and extent of their transmission to others. There is some evidence for an age gradient in infectiousness, with younger children less likely and older children more likely to transmit at levels similar to adults.”
The data cited in the report publish in Pediatrics was from research and reports in Switzerland, France, Australia and China from Jan 20 to April 10, depending on the research time frame. All of those countries had fewer COVID-19 cases than the United States. France and Australia, for example, had strict national lockdowns of several weeks. Some parts of Australia returned to more restrictions after an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
According to the Kaiser report, restrictions and contact tracing played a role in how the reopening of schools impacted the spread of coronavirus in countries outside of the U.S.
“While other countries that reopened schools have generally not experienced outbreaks in school settings, almost all had significantly lower levels of community transmission than the U.S. and greater testing and contact tracing capacity,” the Kaiser report said. “Moreover, several disease clusters connected to schools and children have been reported.”
The Kaiser report said the evidence indicates when an area of the U.S. has widespread community transmission of COVID-19 “there is clearly a risk of further spread associated with reopening schools.”
Noem had other reasons why children needed to return to in-person school.
Absence from school can cause academic, social and mental health issues in students, Noem said.
Also, when a student is not in school, teachers and other staff members don’t see indicators of physical or other abuse or signs of distress in students, Noem said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines cited by Noem reinforce her statements.
“Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” the guidelines said.
As early as May, Education Week was reporting about mental health concerns for students who were not in the school building during the coronavirus pandemic. The May 1 story said schools were struggling to keep up with mental health needs.
The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists recently released a school re-opening plan called “Supporting Student Social and Emotional Learning and Mental and Behavioral Health Amidst COVID-19.”
The plan addresses concerns and needs for a new school year but also draws attention to issues that happened while schools were closed to in-person learning. The plan called for schools to “Recognize the potential for higher rates of certain adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and/or stressors during school closures, and underreporting of those stressors, that may put students at higher risk of trauma.”
A fourth sourced cited by Noem on Tuesday is a May 11 research report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, on COVID-19 in children in Canada and the U.S.