The pattern of spread of this pandemic has followed two main patterns:
1. Spread between cities by air travel.
2. Spread within cities by schools.
These two means of spread were predicted based on our understanding of how seasonal flu spreads. Surprisingly, knowledge of how the virus spreads has not been effectively utilised by public health authorities to control the spread of the virus.
Although some schools closed as soon as one case of H1N1 case was reported in a school district, others stayed open until there were too many ill to have a functioning class. In at least one case, an educator was killed by the virus presumably after being infected by one of his students.
Some politicians and school administrators have suggested that closing schools won’t help. The kindest interpretation of these statements is that the people making them are ignorant.
A new study has come out which attempts to quantify the effects of school closure on pandemic spread. From Bloomberg:
Closing schools during a severe flu pandemic may cut infection rates as much as 40 percent at the peak of the outbreak because of children’s role in spreading the disease, U.K. researchers said. School closures might be even more effective against swine flu than against seasonal flu, according to a study published today in The Lancet.
If infection rates are cut, it is obvious that deaths will be cut as well.
If politicians, public health authorities and school administrators value human life, they’ll do the right thing and close the schools. It’s the only ethical choice.