Why Dr. Sanjay Gupta Is Not Sending His Kids Back to School

"This was not an easy decision, but one that we believe best respects the science," Sanjay Gupta wrote

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty

As CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been covering the coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic, and he recently shared his perspective on schools reopening this fall.

The neurosurgeon, 50, outlined his reasoning for not sending his three teen and preteen daughters back to school amid the ongoing pandemic, sharing that the topic “has been a constant discussion” in his household.

“After considering all the objective criteria and assessing the situation in our own community, we have made the decision to keep our girls out of school for the time being,” he wrote in a CNN article published Wednesday. “This was not an easy decision, but one that we believe best respects the science, decreases the risk of further spread and follows the task force criteria.”

kids at school with masks

Here are some of the concerns Gupta outlines:

Safety Precautions Depend Largely on Students, and Tests Are Often Inaccurate

Gupta said he visited his children’s school to assess what precautions they were taking before reopening. The school was implementing safety measures in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including a mask mandate, hand hygiene stations, physical distancing plans and the frequent disinfection of surfaces.

“It has been a herculean effort over the past few months, but of course, none of this works if the students themselves aren't diligent about following these practices on buses, in hallways and in classrooms,” Gupta wrote, adding that the school even tested all students, faculty and staff ahead of reopening, but that is not a perfect way of keeping everyone safe."

“Some tests have been known to give a considerable amount of false negatives, depending on the type of test you take and how early you take it,” he added. “And, while someone may test negative today, there is no guarantee they won't test positive for the virus tomorrow.”

remote learning

Limited Information on How Children Spread the Coronavirus

Gupta took a close look at the information and research relating to how children spread the coronavirus.

“It is true that children are far less likely to get sick from Covid-19, as compared to adults, but they are by no means immune,” he wrote. “They can become infected and they can spread it quickly.”

Gupta discussed the recent study out of South Korea showing that kids aged 10 to 19 were spreading the virus just as much as adults. The same study found that children under 10 did not account for “a significant amount of viral spread,” though Gupta challenged that finding.

“So, I decided to take a closer look at the South Korean study, and noticed a very important detail: It included fewer than 30 positive cases younger than 10 years old,” he wrote. “The low rate of spread among young kids may not have been because they are less likely to transmit the virus, but because they have largely been home over the last few months, and had few contacts as a result.”

“As our kids become increasingly mobile, they will become part of a large national experiment, and there is little doubt the infection rates will increase. Just over the past four weeks, the number of children infected in the United States has increased by 90% to more than 380,000 cases,” Gupta added, citing a recent analysis.

Going Back to School Puts Teachers at Risk

Gupta also expressed concern about the faculty and staff at schools, who are put at risk by in-person learning.

“It is also important to remember that a school community is made up of more than just young students,” he said, citing another analysis that found a quarter of teachers working in the U.S. school system are at higher risk of serious illness from the coronavirus, either because of age or pre-existing conditions.

“I was particularly struck by the stories of worried teachers around the country who said they were writing out their wills in anticipation of returning to school,” he added.

A teacher checks temperature of students at a high school
A teacher checks temperature of students at a high school. Getty

High Number of Coronavirus Cases in the Area

Finally, Gupta outlined how Georgia’s Fulton County, where his family lives, is “simply not there yet” in terms of having the number of coronavirus cases under control.

The county has not met the guidelines for full-time, face-to-face instruction. The guidelines require “the county rate of new cases per 100,000 people to be fewer than 100 for the last 14 days.” Fulton county’s current rate is 316.2.

“Recently, the Surgeon General said he would like to see positivity rates at less than 10% in communities before schools consider reopening,” Gupta wrote, sharing that Georgia’s is 11.3 percent. “We are close, but it is still worrisome to place students back into an environment with that much community viral spread.”

He also cited some examples in the past few weeks of “what may happen as schools start to reopen,” including an overnight camp in Georgia that had nearly 260 attendees test positive for coronavirus and a high school in the state that has already temporarily closed after more than a dozen positive tests in the first week.

“None of this is easy, and some families may arrive at a different conclusion after looking at the same data. In the age of COVID-19, it seems we are all forced to become amateur epidemiologists, while also being the best parents we can be,” Gupta concluded.

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