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Why some pediatric doctors believe students should return to in-person learning

"Kids seem to be less likely to get infected with COVID-19 than adults, and that's particularly true for younger children," said Dr. Sean OLeary.

AURORA, Colo. — While Colorado has seen a slight uptick of COVID-19 cases, a group of pediatricians are optimistic schools could have in-person learning in the fall. 

The American Academy for Pediatrics published guidance for school re-entry with masks, social distancing and online meetings for adults but much more flexibility for kids. 

Dr. Sean O'Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, helped write the document. He has ideas to open schools safely, but he warns the risks are more for the adults than the kids. 

O'Leary emphasized the more we do right now to decrease the number of cases in Colorado, the better off we'll be to open schools safely. That effort will take people wearing masks and social distancing.

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9NEWS sat down with O'Leary to learn more. 

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for context and clarity. 

9NEWS: How do you find that balance between making the most informed decision based on the latest information but also be courteous to the planning for parents and teachers? 

O'Leary: We are in unprecedented times, we’ve never done this before. We have to go into the planning process with this mentality that we have to be able to change quickly and make decisions quickly. We have to be flexible, we have to be collaborative so that means local public health working closely with public schools, pediatricians working closely with schools, teachers being at the table through all of this.

Why have in-person learning when we can do it online from home? 

O'Leary: In terms of what we saw in the spring with schools shut down, we already have evidence of the harmful impacts that has had on children. One learning was significantly less, rates of obesity went up, children were experiencing greater degrees of mental health conditions, anxiety, depression, suicidality.

Are children super-spreaders of the virus like we thought?

O'Leary: Kids seem to be less likely to get infected with COVID-19 than adults, and that's particularly true for younger children. They also seem to be less likely to spread the infection once they are infected.

If the risk is lower for children but it's higher for adults, what kind of risk does that pose to staff?

O'Leary: First of all, teachers need to be at the table with all of these decisions in terms of their risk within schools I think a lot of the priority around risk mitigation strategy should be aimed at the teachers and the staff. Keeping them separate from other adults.

I think we have to recognize that it's not a 0-risk situation, there's going to be risk no matter what we do but we want to do our best to make the risk as low as possible.

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