Jared Kushner’s Rationale for Sending His Kids Back to School Is, At Best, Misleading

Jared Kusner has “no fear” about sending his kids back to school in the fall. The White House adviser and president’s son-in-law said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation that he “absolutely” plans to send his children to in-person classroom education, arguing that the risk of death for children who contract COVID-19 is low.

“Children have a six times higher chance to die from the flu than from the coronavirus,” Kushner told host Margaret Brennan. “So based on the data I’ve seen, I don’t believe that’s a risk.”

It’s unclear where Kushner got that statistic. But even without knowing where it’s from, we can say that it’s misleading at best, flat-out wrong at worst. It’s true that most reported cases of COVID-19 in children are mild or asymptomatic, but experts have repeatedly cautioned that there’s a lot we don’t know about this virus, including the death rate.

As former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who later joined Face the Nation on Sunday, pointed out, it’s still unknown how many children have actually been infected with the coronavirus. And as I reported last month, it’s incredibly difficult to know much of anything definitively about kids and COVID-19. One reason for this ambiguity may be because many children don’t show symptoms:

But because so many children are likely to show mild symptoms or be asymptomatic, the true number of cases is likely to be much higher than we know. “At this point, primarily, we’re testing people who are symptomatic, except in the case of health workers and others where we need to know if there’s been a lot of exposure,” says Dr. Cynthia Haq, a clinical professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, “and because children are less likely to be symptomatic, you’re less likely to be tested.”

Gottlieb also cautioned against comparing COVID-19 to the flu. The bottom line, he says, is “there’s a lot we don’t understand about COVID and kids.”

(It’s also unclear where Gottlieb’s estimate came from regarding the 400 pediatric deaths per flu season. According to the CDC, between 2004 and 2019, flu-related deaths in children ranged from 37 to 187 deaths per season. And the H1N1 pandemic, which lasted from April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010, saw 358 pediatric deaths, according to the CDC. Mother Jones has reached out to Gottlieb through the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a fellow.)

What Kushner also notably left out in his risk equation is the danger reopening schools could pose to teachers and the greater community. It’s still not fully understood what role children play in spreading the virus to adults, which has caused many teachers to push back on calls to reopen classrooms. Educators in Arizona, for example, just forced a school to pause plans to reopen on Monday after more than 100 teachers called in sick.

For the most part, teachers and epidemiologists alike agree that getting kids back to school is important, but as I’ve written in the past, with so much uncertainty about this virus, “following the science” to safely reopen schools simply doesn’t mean much, and oversimplifying the limited data we do have isn’t just confusing for parents; it’s dangerous. 

Of course, Kushner’s arguments on Sunday echo much of what his father-in-law has been saying for months. There’s no word yet on whether the president and first lady intend to send Barron Trump, 14, back to school in the fall, but the president has said he would be “comfortable” with it. 

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