CHOP PolicyLab supports return to in-person learning for kids

Return decisions should be more based on “an issue of staffing and operational issues,” not the severity of the virus, the Policy Lab director says.

Students wear face masks outside of their school in Philly

File photo: Philadelphia School District students at Samuel Powel Elementary School and Science Leadership Academy Middle School returned to in-person learning on Aug. 31, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia supports schools returning to in-person learning after winter break.

CHOP released a statement Friday explaining the decision.

“Our statement this morning is upon careful review of the data that’s emerging,” PolicyLab Director Dr. David Rubin said in an interview.

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Amid the rising rates of transmission among children, Rubin said, the data shows that the omicron variant is milder than earlier coronavirus strains, especially for those who are vaccinated.

“The sheer numbers of children have resulted in some increasing hospitalizations, but a lower proportion of kids are in our intensive care units,” said Rubin.

Children in the ICU are almost exclusively identified as unvaccinated, Rubin added.

The statement is a consensus across clinical and policy lab teams at CHOP, Rubin said, and stressed the need for returning to the classroom. Schools’ decisions to return to buildings should be more based on “an issue of staffing and operational issues and not related to concerns about the severity of the virus,” he said.

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For children who are unvaccinated, Rubin said, the health risk is greater for their vulnerable adult family members, especially those who are also unvaccinated.

“It could result in secondary transmission that could lead to severe impacts within families,” he added.

The pivot to the milder variant, omicron, may lead to a swifter collective recovery, and signals a need to “push through,” Rubin said.

Many parents across the Philadelphia region are increasingly anxious about the rising COVID-19 rates among children, concerned about the newest quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, and unenforced school masking policies.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health also supports an in-person return to school.

“Any time you take a next step towards normal, it would provoke some anxiety,” said Rubin, “But ironically, I think we’re moving in the right direction, once we get over the top of this in the next couple of weeks.”

CHOP continues to encourage adults and children to get vaccinations and boosters.

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