After more than a year of doing “Zoom School,” many children are returning to the classroom for the first time. Parents and kids alike are justified in wondering, “Is this safe?” Unfortunately, it’s not a clear-cut answer. Risk really depends on an individual family’s situation.
For example, while the risk of hospitalization or death is extremely low in children, there’s the potential they could contract COVID-19 and bring it home to an adult who is in the high-risk category and more vulnerable to a more severe impact of the virus.
Another concern is how well a particular school or school district is enacting safety protocols. “Depending on the district they’re in and the school they're going to, [parents] have questions about if the school is doing enough to prevent disease spreading in their school community,” states Dr. Methuel Gordon, Pediatrician at Palouse Pediatrics, part of the Pullman Regional Hospital Clinic Network.
If parents are questioning the school’s safety measures—or aren’t comfortable with the level of precaution—Dr. Gordon suggests providing specific feedback to the school. Input on what is missing or could be done differently could be incredibly valuable.
Assessing Personal and Family Risk
When contemplating whether to continue at-home learning or return to the classroom, Dr. Gordon encourages families to do the best they can in advocating for their children’s well-being. This involves assessing all risks associated with one’s family and home environment.
“Everyone's family makeup is different. For example, if you have a child who is generally healthy, no comorbid or significant risk factors to developing severe disease, and mom and dad are generally healthy or also low-risk, maybe in-person learning is something you'd want to consider,” he notes.
Another aspect to weigh is offsetting the physical risk of contracting the virus versus the mental health risk of continuing to be socially isolated. “I think it's been a very difficult year for a lot of our children. We're seeing a lot of mental illness; depression, anxiety, suicide. We do have to find a good balance for our children. Again, realizing we need to take all the necessary measures to be safe and to stay safe. That's very important,” urges Dr. Gordon.
Parents or other caregivers can turn to the CDC website to get more information on assessing risk, via the article “Making Decisions About Children Attending In-person School During COVID-19.” “It’s a very good guide for parents, guardians, and caregivers and can help families objectively make that decision” adds Dr. Gordon.
What to Do If a Child Is Exposed
Should a child be exposed to COVID-19, Dr. Gordon advises following the CDC’s guidelines. First up is to determine the degree of exposure. The CDC’s current definition is if someone has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 consecutive minutes or 15 accumulative minutes.
Typically, it’s suggested to wait five or six days post-exposure to perform a COVID-19 test. “That’s important, because you want to avoid getting a false negative if you do the test too early,” he explains. “If tests are positive, having a period of quarantine after an exposure can prevent transmitting the disease to someone else unwittingly.”
Putting It All in Perspective
The last year-plus has been tremendously challenging on all fronts. And, even as we start to return to some sense of “normalcy,” there is a long way to go. Dr. Gordon implores people to put everything in perspective.
“We all take risks every day. We weigh benefits and then we act,” he states. “But, I often hear this term, ‘We're at war with COVID. We're fighting this war against the COVID-19 virus.’ Personally, for me, I'm not a big fan of that analogy. In war, sometimes you have collateral damage. I think we cannot, in this ‘war’ against COVID-19, allow our children to be collateral damage. It’s not fair.
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