Closing Schools to Protect Kids Made Them Sick
Reason magazine|February 2022
NOT LONG AGO, parents spent time and energy worrying about contagious diseases other than COVID-19: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV); hand, foot, and mouth disease; strep throat; and even the boring old flu. But the default standards for “safety” haphazardly narrowed and heightened as COVID-19 burst onto the scene. Lockdowns, school closures, and other restrictions substantially limited people’s access to each other.
By Pamela Hobart. Photographs by SDI Productions/iStock

NOT LONG AGO, parents spent time and energy worrying about contagious diseases other than COVID-19: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV); hand, foot, and mouth disease; strep throat; and even the boring old flu. But the default standards for “safety” haphazardly narrowed and heightened as COVID-19 burst onto the scene. Lockdowns, school closures, and other restrictions substantially limited people’s access to each other.

There was one apparent silver lining to all this disruption: Flu circulation in the winter of 2020–21 stayed at an all-time low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2020–21 RSV season failed to materialize as well. Pandemic-weary parents grasping at straws noticed their bored, undersocialized kids at least had no colds. Maybe lower childhood contagious disease rates could become a legacy of this pandemic?

Alas, that hope was short-lived. By May and June 2021, pediatricians noticed an unprecedented, counter-seasonal surge in communicable illnesses, particularly RSV. Hand, foot, and mouth disease came right along with it, tearing through schools and day care centers all summer with unmistakable boils. Strep throat got in on the action too. Instead of dodging diseases, this catch-up wave suggested, children had largely just deferred them.

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