Doctors Discuss Safety, Logistics of Education During Pandemic
by TERESA SCHIFFER
It’s back-to-school season again – but this time there’s a twist. COVID-19 infection rates and deaths are still on the rise in the U.S., meaning students, educators, and parents must learn to navigate education during an ongoing public health crisis. This is not the first major pandemic the U.S. has ever experienced, but it is the first to occur within our lifetimes. Because authorities have not waived the obligation for children in Florida ages 6 to 16 to attend some form of schooling despite the public health risks associated with gathering in groups, this school year is going to be quite the novel experience.
Dr. Michael Keating, Chief Medical Officer at AdventHealth for Children, and Dr. Angela Falls, Medical Director of the Pediatric Weight and Wellness Program at AdventHealth for Children, addressed some of the concerns of parents and educators on a recent livestream of the AdventHealth Morning Briefing coronavirus update.
Keating summarized the primary concern surrounding the reopening of schools. “Fortunately, kids, defined as those being 18 years and younger, do not typically get as sick as adults do, which is a blessing,” he says.
“But the implications of having them as a potential reservoir for viruses is a very real one because it places not only their families potentially at risk, but the staff in the schools at risk, and the rest of the population and their friends at risk.”
Falls emphasizes that children have endured several months now of significant adjustments in their routines and habits. They have been, for the most part, sequestered as their education was interrupted and behaviors were modified by the sudden gravity of personal hygiene and mask use. Their lives were essentially turned upside-down, and now, just six months later, they are experiencing even more major transition as we endeavor to resume their educational course.
“The children have had to quickly adapt,” Falls notes, “and quickly develop ways to cope with all of these changes. But we’re in this for the long haul – it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So the ability to continue to do the things that they’ve done and to continue adapting is extremely important.”
No matter how resilient the children may be, they still pose a serious societal threat in terms of disease transmission. Keating spells out the specific risk to family or household members when a child is exposed to the virus. “If a child becomes infected with COVID, then everybody’s at risk.” He believes that any chance of safety depends on good practices being instituted at home and then being carried over into the brick-and-mortar schools.”
In Falls’ opinion, success in the schools hinges on all parties being patient, tolerant, and flexible with each other. She warns that situations can change at a moment’s notice. A student may start the year online, then after some time be able to transition back to in-person instruction, but then suddenly be forced to resume virtual learning.
Parents need to stay informed and an understanding must be established when it comes to the expectations of the schools as we move forward. Communication must be cultivated with children to help them manage intentions and anxieties during what may be a stressful time for them.
While parents and educators are understandably concerned about the children’s well-being, it’s important to remember that the teachers and staff are the ones likely to have greater risk factors at play. Teachers heading back to school should practice self-care and anxiety management by making sure they are eating balanced meals and exercising. The support of family and friends will also help bolster them.
Safety measures in place at schools won’t work if teachers and staff members do not adhere to a proper level of defense outside of work, as well. “Do the right things all the time, it should become a way of life right now,” Keating advises educators. His advice for parents is to ask their children what is going on at school and whether the other children and adults are following appropriate protocol throughout the day. “If the other children and the teachers aren’t doing the right thing, you need to reconsider your situation and your decision,” he says.
Masks are important because COVID-19, like other strains of coronavirus, is spread through large droplets and potentially through aerosol. The virus can also spread easily through surface contact, making hand-washing one of the best defenses. Educators, parents, and children need to work together to maintain proper health and safety measures whether they are at school, home, or out in the world. The only way to protect ourselves is by protecting each other.