Schools in most countries around the world have been closed for months, and educators have had to make do use electronic means. This extended lockdown period has been a huge cause for frustration in the education community, and many have called for schools to reopen. The reasoning is given is that children’s immune systems seem to be more capable of dealing with the virus without displaying major symptoms, so children are ‘safe’, and shouldn’t have to see a decline in their mental and physical health for no reason. But how valid is this argument?
While the evidence does seem to point towards the fact that children are largely spared from the fatal effects of COVID-19, their ability to contract and spread the virus seems to be greater than previously thought, but still a lot less than adults, especially of those under the age of 10.
One study tracked a COVID-19 positive 9-year old, who somehow visited, and interacted with, three different schools without transmitting the virus. Scientists theorise that, because the volume of children’s exhales are relatively low, and the force behind breathing out is also low, the droplet-based transmission might be less of a risk than in adults. Children are also shorter than adults, causing their breathing to occur closer to the ground, reducing the risk of transmission to adults.
Another theory to explain the lack of sickness in those under 10 is the placement of an enzyme called ACE2. When the virus enters the body, it latches on to ACE2 in order to then infect cells and multiply. In children, the ACE2 receptors are located mostly in the nose and upper respiratory system, while they’re positioned in the lungs in adults (who also have a higher number of ACE2 receptors).
But this is not the age group that the authorities plan to send back to school, especially Covid in India. That honour would belong to high-school students, whose studies are deemed more important, owing to upcoming entrance exams like JEE and NEET, along with boards. The issue here is the lack of physiological differences between 16-17-year-olds and adults, which makes them devoid of all the benefits the < 10-year-olds are endowed with. Even with social distancing and hygiene protocols in place, the risks are way too high, and it doesn’t seem like they are offset by the potential rewards.