Excerpted from Science by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, Gretchen Vogel, Meagan Weiland

Early this spring, school gates around the world slammed shut. By early April, an astonishing 1.5 billion young people were staying home as part of broader shutdowns to protect people from the novel coronavirus. The drastic measures worked in many places, dramatically slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, as weeks turned into months, pediatricians and educators began to voice concern that school closures were doing more harm than good, especially as evidence mounted that children rarely develop severe symptoms from COVID-19. (An inflammatory condition first recognized in April, which seems to follow infection in some children, appears uncommon and generally treatable, although scientists continue to study the virus’ effect on youngsters.)

Continued closures risk “scarring the life chances of a generation of young people,” according to an open letter published this month and signed by more than 1500 members of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). Virtual education is often a pale shadow of the real thing and left many parents juggling jobs and childcare. Lower-income children who depend on school meals were going hungry. And there were hints that children were suffering increased abuse, now that school staff could no longer spot and report early signs of it. It was time, a growing chorus said, to bring children back to school.

By early June, more than 20 countries had done just that. (Some others, including Taiwan, Nicaragua, and Sweden, never closed their schools.) It was a vast, uncontrolled experiment.
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