Aug 7, 2020


Interviewer: One of the things experts have done in order to determine how to best reopen schools here in the United States is examine how other countries have reopened their schools and what effects that has had.

In a recent Facebook Live interview, we talked to Dr. Adam Hersh. He's a professor of pediatric infectious disease in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah. He's also an epidemiologist. That's the person that studies viral infections and how to control them. And he specializes in the study of respiratory viral infections in children, which is exactly what COVID-19 is. He also consults with school districts and individual schools about their reopening plans, and he practices at Primary Children's Hospital.

If you want to hear the whole Facebook Live interview, where we cover a whole wide range of topics, you can go to But in this particular segment on The Scope, we pulled out what he had to share with us about how other countries have handled opening schools and what those results have been.

Dr. Hersh: We have to be cautious about how we apply what we've observed from other countries who have experienced school reopening, how we apply that information to our communities, to our state, and to our nation, just because the circumstances are not entirely the same. We're not necessarily comparing the same communities in one country to similar communities in ours.

And the biggest difference that we have seen is that the vast majority of countries that have reopened schools, a number in Scandinavia, parts of Western Europe and several countries in Asia have generally had, you know, frankly, a better epi curve, declining number of cases at the time that schools were reopened. Unfortunately, in most communities in the United States right now, in many communities in the United States, we're not really experiencing a decline.

So what we have observed in a number of other countries is that when schools reopened with all kinds of different approaches to mitigating transmission risks, not every country that reopened schools required masks, not every school environment was able to achieve say three or even six feet of distance apart from students, not every country that reopened schools used a hybrid model, meaning partial in-person, partial at home, not every country created these cohorts that we're talking a lot about here in the United States right now, creating these strict cohorts of students.

But, in general, what we observed was that, when schools reopened, the case counts did not reverse and go in the wrong direction as a result of school reopening. There are some examples of countries where there were clusters of cases identified in schools. Most notably in Israel, there's been a lot of attention paid to some of those schools that reopened in Israel that did, after several weeks of being open, experience some clusters of cases in school environments. Whether or not that was the consequence of transmission that happened in the school, or if that was just the spillover of what was happening in the community is to be determined and is uncertain.

But I would say, in general, when the epidemiologic curve was going in the right direction and when the appropriate kinds of mitigation strategies were put into place, schools were not associated with a change in the direction of the case counts. That's good news. But again, we have to be really careful about extrapolating that information to our own local communities. And what's going on outside of the walls of the school is definitely a big factor.

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