Missouri Gov. Mike Parson felt the vitriol of the whole Twitterverse on Friday after making it clear during a radio interview that, not only does he not understand what age group is at risk of catching the COVID-19, he doesn’t seem to care. Parson was on the air with host Marc Cox on St Louis’ KFTK-FM and, during the discussion, the two got on the topic of schools reopening in the Fall. The governor declared that children needed to go back to attending in-person classes immediately, despite the major risk putting dozens of students, teacher, and staff together under one roof poses during the pandemic.
"These kids have got to get back to school," Parson said. "They're at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they're not going to the hospitals. They're not going to have to sit in doctor's offices. They're going to go home and they're going to get over it."
Despite Parson’s adamant declaration about schools reopening, the governor showed a real lack of concern — or understanding — of who is really at risk. Yes, younger children are asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus — they may not display any telltale signs of being infected, like the loss of taste and smell — but they can still get sick, or pass the illness to others who they come in contact with. It's also currently unclear what kind of long term effects COVID-19 can have, especially on children who carry it.
Teachers and faculty, however, are inherently more at risk of developing dangerous COVID-19 symptoms that are passed through children in a classroom. And, those children are going home to parents and other family members that are older or potentially immunocompromised, further spreading the virus.
While there are a lot of unknown factors regarding the transmission of COVID-19 among children, we do know that coronavirus is airborne and often spreads through indoor spaces filled with large numbers of people, according to the World Health Organization report earlier this month. Current results of the spreading virus are traced back to groups who gather mostly indoors and don't wear masks, making a school setting highly susceptible to rapid transmission.
But there are other factors we cannot ignore: Parents who have to stay home with their kids which schools are still closed are dealing with the mental and financial toll of full-time childcare while working. Some schools across the globe have managed to slowly reopen by keeping groups of students attending classes small and enforcing social distancing. It’s a move that’s up in the air for the United States, according to the New York Times, given the smaller space American schools must work with and the push to reopen schools without a proper plan.
The problem with Parson, specifically, is that he isn't using any sound judgement regarding the transmission of COVID-19 among the most susceptible populations, or the toll on parents, as a reason to push for schools to reopen. But Parson is not alone in this confusing rhetoric: A growing list of Republican lawmakers, from President Donald Trump to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, seek to send children in the U.S. back to school (or die trying).
The ranks of right-leaning politicians who want schools to reopen without substantial reason, plan, or effort to quell coronavirus concerns is only growing. New York Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh cited parents “trying to juggle teaching their children without any sort of educational background" as a reason for reopening. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also tweeted on July 13 that “The risks in re-opening schools are not insignificant, but the costs of not doing so are extraordinary. We are going to have to be creative & flexible & do the best we can to mitigate risk. But at some point this fall kids need to be back in school.”
The timeline and decision to reopen schools is becoming highly debated, and likely will be until the Fall. What we do know, though, is that Parson is not accounting for any real solutions, and shows a willingness to let children just get sick or pass the virus around without care. Not only does it make him look foolish to suggest that children will get sick and that is totally fine, but it's dangerous — as a political leader — to say something so cavalier without at the very least weighing out the risks.