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Returning to school in 2020

Returning to school during a pandemic leaves parents around the area with many questions, perhaps the most important of which is how their child can return to the classroom safely. 

Pamela Johnson, M.D., a pediatrician at Ephraim McDowell Mercer Pediatrics in Harrodsburg, located at 466 Linden Ave., said although it is better for children to be in school, the discussion becomes complicated when talking about how to send them back and keep them safe. 

“Anyone over 2 is supposed to wear a mask,” Johnson said. “It is difficult for most kids to wear a mask, and it’s a concern for the parents for sure.”

Especially since some kids are constantly touching their faces, Johnson said. However, recent studies show that children do not get COVID-19 as easily as adults. For those who do, they typically have no symptoms, or develop mild ones at most. Children under the age of 1, she said, are more likely to develop the most concerning health problems from the disease. Studies also show that it is not until a child reaches the age of 10 that they can infect another person just like an adult. 

“I get a lot of parents who say they are not letting their children go back, or some who have to work and say they feel like they don’t have a choice,” Johnson said. “The primary thing we are going to see is how they react to wearing a mask and staying in one room. That is not normal for them, but I think a lot of them want to go back.”

In fact, Johnson said this is the first year she has asked her young patients if they are ready to return to school and many of them have said yes. Although, she said there could be added pressure on students returning to school who may not have gained as much from distance learning as others and schools will need to be prepared when dealing with these issues. It is also important, Johnson said, for students to be up-to-date on immunizations when they return to classroom instruction, and students with high-risk medical conditions might need to continue distance learning or have other accommodations made in order to keep them safe. 

Although schools around the area have not yet decided on a set date to resume classroom instruction, when students do return to in-person teaching, Johnson said they can expect to see things conducted a little differently. 

“When they do go back it is recommended that high-touch surfaces, like desks and cabinets, are cleaned often,” Johnson said. “They will be expected to wash hands often, there will be fewer children in the classroom and they will be kept three to six feet apart. Teachers will move from room to room rather than students.”

Some other guidelines for reopening schools safely include fewer students and staff in the classroom, students having lunches at their desks instead of in a cafeteria, masks for all adults and older students, and school district’s maintaining flexibility to go virtual if the virus surges. 

Recommendations also suggest having outside time with different classrooms rotating outdoors whenever possible. Although, Johnson said, this recommendation will differ from school to school and depend on the school yard and playground that is accessible.

Schools are also advised to take students’ temperatures whenever possible and establish a way to identify students and staff who may have a fever or symptoms. Students, teachers and staff are asked to stay home if they have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. Assigned seating on bus rides to and from school can also help keep students safe, as well as marked hallways and stairs with arrows inside the school building to direct traffic and cut down on crowding in the hallways. 

“What might help parents is knowing it’s a low percentage of children who get the virus and it is better to be in school if they can return safely,” Johnson said. “Not being in school, some children feel shut out and lonely from not being able to see their friends and teachers. This has had an effect on a lot of children who just feel trapped. It is better for them to be in school, but they have to be kept safe.” 

For more information, call Ephraim McDowell Mercer Pediatrics at 859-734-5123.