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School closures linked to rise in depression and suicide, CDC report shows asymptomatic kids can spread Covid-19

A new study suggests that though school closures have prevented 2% to 4% of deaths, they cut off children from their peers, teachers, extended family and community networks
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When the pandemic shuttered schools, some experts warned that physical isolation might take a toll on children's mental health. A new study, which documented the extent of damage in primary school students from China, found an uptick in depression and suicide attempt rates. 

"These findings highlight mental health effects associated with lengthy school closure owing to the Covid-19 lockdown among children and adolescents in China, which might help to inform other regions affected by Covid-19 on how to timely prepare for the potential increase in mental health problems among children and adolescents returning to school," the researchers wrote in their study.

China closed its schools in January, affecting 278 million students across primary and postsecondary grades in China. Though school closures are predicted to have prevented 2% to 4% of deaths, they cut off children from their peers, teachers, extended family, and community networks. And this could be linked with mental health problems, according to the researchers.

To study the effects of school closures, researchers from China's Anhui Medical University enrolled 1,389 students from grades 4 through 8. They assessed the mental health status of children two weeks after schools reopened in mid-May and compared them to reports collected in November 2019.

 Their analysis found mental health issues saw a spike during school closures. About 25% experienced depressive symptoms in May, a jump from 18.5% in November. About 6.4% attempted suicides in May -- it was 1.74% last year. The researchers found no significant increase in anxiety. The experts said that their preliminary findings matched with a previous review that suggested a link between social isolation implemented to contain the disease and future mental health problems among children and adolescents.

(Getty Images)

In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a case for reopening schools, saying that benefits far outweigh the risks. But when schools opened for in-person classes, some had to close again after more infections emerged.

"What we do know is children have a harder time social distancing. And we can't put a whole bunch of them in a classroom with a teacher right now," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in an August briefing announcing a delay. "Other states that have tried to open this new school year are now having to close. We don't want to start and stop. That may be more difficult on our children," he said.

Though the young tend to develop mild or no illness, they still may be able to spread the infection to adults who experience more severe symptoms.

Asymptomatic children can spread the disease

More evidence has emerged that children without symptoms can spread the disease. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) released a report documenting transmission from two child care facilities in Utah.
According to the CDC, 12 children caught Covid-19 from child care facilities. Contact tracing revealed that at least two asymptomatic children passed on the infection to other people, including one mother who was hospitalized. Overall, at least 12 new cases are likely to have emerged from these facilities. 
"SARS-CoV-2 Infections among young children acquired in child care settings were transmitted to their household members. Testing of contacts of laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases in child care settings, including children who might not have symptoms, could improve control of transmission from child care attendees to family members.