Small chance of Covid surge as schools reopen in K'taka

Small chance of Covid surge after schools reopen in Karnataka: experts

Parents expressed not only fear over children developing complications but also that they will bring the disease home to infect vulnerable adults

Representative image/Credit: AFP Photo

As the government mulls reopening schools amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, medical experts said a surge in cases is likely to occur depending on how much children end up driving disease transmission.

“We still do not know about the level of transmissibility of the virus by children, but some studies have shown that transmissibility is low,” said Dr Gnanam R, consulting emergency paediatrician with Manipal Hospitals, Old Airport Road.

Speaking to a large online audience comprising parents and medical professionals brought together for a specially curated session organised by DH on Thursday, Dr Gnanam and Dr Jagadish Chinappa, consulting paediatrician at Manipal Hospitals, examined the issue of school reopening and Covid-19 preparedness.

Parents expressed not only fear over children developing complications due to the disease, but also that they will bring the disease home to infect vulnerable adults.

Birmy Bastian, a parent, said “many parents with comorbidities or other high-risks could potentially orphan their children if exposed to the disease brought home from school.”

The concern has some validity. Studies showed that disease rates from school-going children may have contributed to a second wave of Covid-19 cases in Israel.

A South Korean study of nearly 6,000 patients which was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in July found those aged 10 to 19 spread the virus as much as adults did.

Dr Sankarshana Thimmarayappa, an ENT specialist, suggested that the government declare the 2020-2021 academic year a zero year.

“The government is hiding data on the Covid outbreak for economic reasons and is opening schools. There is a risk that the system will be inundated as before,” he said, adding that paediatric infrastructure is extremely limited in Bengaluru, and could potentially not be able to handle a large inflow of child Covid-19 cases. 

Dr Chinappa said most children do not develop serious symptoms of the disease, which means less hospitalisation is required.

“A combination of preventive measures including staggering classes and adherence to social distancing measures could potentially address the problem,” he said.

“We simply cannot restart classes in the old way. The government must carry out a risk assessment and consult all stakeholders, especially parents, before taking the decision to open schools,” he said.

At the same time, monitoring outbreaks in schools could be challenging as, Dr Gnanam clarified, regular testing of children before entry into schools is also not viable as it is not easy to collect swab samples from children. Besides, regular testing has a negative impact on the mental health of adolescents and teens.

Chinappa said children are also at the tail end of priorities for a vaccine, as the degree of severity of the disease among children is low.