WHO warns against using school reopenings as ‘political football’ in coronavirus debate


A woman pushes a baby in a cart past the entrance to Public School 133 in the Harlem neighborhood of the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S..

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

World Health Organization officials warned global leaders Monday against turning the decision to reopen schools “into yet another political football in this game.” 

“My fear in this is that we create these political footballs that get kicked around the place,”  Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said at a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters. “If we suppress the virus in our society, in our communities, then our schools can open safely.” 

WHO officials noted that current studies shows that the coronavirus doesn’t generally make children as sick as adults, but the organization’s research on Covid-19’s impact on children is “still limited.” 

“We know that overall they tend to have more mild disease, but in some situations they can have severe disease and we have seen children that have died,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said. 

Ryan added that scientists still don’t know the long-term affect of the coronavirus on children’s health, although they tend to have milder symptoms. 

“The fact remains that when community transmission exists and when community transmission is intense, children will be exposed to that virus and children will be part of the transmission cycle,” Ryan said. 

“They will be exposed, some will be infected and they will infect others,” he said. 

In the U.S., health and government officials have been debating whether it’s safe to reopen schools this upcoming fall as the nation experiences a surge in coronavirus cases. 

President Donald Trump last week ramped up pressure to get public schools to fully reopen, threatening to withhold federal funding from states that don’t reopen their schools. 

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates. 

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