SAGINAW, MI – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, parents are wondering if they should send their children back to school or keep them at home to learn online.
Two Saginaw County Health Department officials, Christina Harrington and Dr. Delicia Pruitt, held a forum Wednesday evening, Aug. 12, to help parents answer that question. They shared their perspectives regarding their own children, outlined information and factors to consider and answered questions directly from parents as well.
Benefits of in-person schooling include a safe environment that supports social and emotional development, promotes physical activity, and reduces disparities such as nutritional needs. Some perks of learning from home are learning at the student’s own pace, the ability to monitor activity, and not needing to worry about quarantining or class learning plans being disrupted by a quarantine.
“I do expect there to be cases in the school, there will be,” Harrington said. “No doubt about that. That really goes back to ‘The risk will never be zero.’”
A student’s responsibility, the health of family members, the student’s emotional needs and the family’s support system are factors to consider when making the decision.
Harrington, the county health officer, has a child at each of the elementary, middle and high school levels. Because her youngest is good at following directions and her oldest should have no trouble distancing properly, she said she’s confident her children will be responsible enough to return to in-person classes.
“Overall with my three children, I think the level or responsibility is pretty good,” Harrington said. “I feel pretty confident in that.”
Dr. Pruitt, the department’s medical director, has four children that regularly come into contact with elderly family members, she said. She’s deciding to keep her kids learning from home because of that risk, and because her large extended family supplies both an ample support system and kids of a similar age for them to socialize with.
“Every one of us is at risk if we don’t take precautions,” Pruitt said. “This virus is only 9 months old, so we still have a lot to learn.”
Some of the questions from parents Harrington and Pruitt answered:
Can you get reinfected?
The jury is still out on how vulnerable those infected with COVID-19 are to getting the virus a second time, Pruitt said. To be safe, everyone should continue practicing the “three W’s:” Washing your hands, wearing a mask and watching your distance.
“We’re not 100% sure if you can or cannot get reinfected,” Pruitt said.
What happens when a student test positive?
The health department will hear of the case either from a parent calling the school district or from a lab result, Harrington said. The department will work with the school to collect data on the case and close contacts, or anyone who was within six feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more at a time.
“If we can’t determine that, we’re going to err on the side of caution, we’re gonna say ‘Okay, maybe that entire classroom needs to be quarantined then because they’re direct close contacts.”
Because of medical privacy, the department or school district won’t reveal the name of the positive case. The department or district will notify parents of a positive case, and the department will directly notify those who have been in direct contact to tell them to quarantine, she said. If you don’t hear directly from the department about quarantining, you don’t have to worry about close contact with the case.
What if my child has allergies that could be mistaken for COVID symptoms?
Certain symptoms like fever or fatigue present much more often in adult COVID-19 cases than those among children, who are slightly more likely to experience sore throat and congestion symptoms such as runny nose. It’s best to keep your kids at home if they have those symptoms and have them checked by a healthcare provider, Dr. Pruitt said.
Parents should contact a doctor and ask what medicine or treatment their child could take to help with allergy symptoms, she said.
“We don’t think that every child with a runny nose needs a test,” she said. “What we want you to do is contact your provider and get some instructions from your provider about what to do, so that a kid with COVID-19 won’t be in the school system infecting other children.”
What happens with kids who can’t tolerate masks?
The department has a form to take to a healthcare provider to find a mask alternative, Pruitt said. A face shield could be an option for kids with special needs such as hearing aids. The form also asks the physician if it’s best for the student to get instruction at home.
“A lot of our special needs kids are at risk and may have some type of chronic condition that may put them at more risk for complications of COVID-19,” Pruitt said. “But we know certain resources are best at school… compared to home. So those are the benefits versus the risks that we have to weigh.”
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