MUSC infectious disease expert leads talk on children returning to school

Many parents have questions on sending kids back to school in-person this school year.
Many parents have questions on sending kids back to school in-person this school year.(Source: Live 5)
Updated: Aug. 8, 2020 at 7:43 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - MUSC Children’s Health hosted a webinar Friday morning to answer some parents’ biggest questions about COVID-19 and sending children back to school during the pandemic.

Dr. Allison Eckard, the division director of pediatric infectious diseases at MUSC Children’s Health, led the discussion.

“There is no one right answer,” Eckard said. “And this is a challenging time to make decisions, including for my family. So you’re not alone there. There’s so much we don’t know. This is a brand new virus. And what we have already learned, a lot of it’s no longer true.”

However, she said there are several things for parents to consider when deciding on putting their children back in the classroom. Here are answers to some of the most pressing questions Eckard gets from parents:

What if my child has an underlying condition? Does their age make a difference?

Eckard: “This depends on how the child’s baseline condition is. If they are very sick and teetering on the edge of being even sicker than I think the risk is probably not worth it. If you have a child with asthma, for example, there’s not great evidence that people with asthma have more severe COVID, and you work hard to keep your child’s baseline asthma under control, then this might be something that you consider. And I think the age of the child really does matter. If your child is a teenager and understands the risks and can wear a mask and try to stay away from people to a much better degree than my three year old, for example, then you may say that it is worth the risk. It all depends on your own assessment in conjunction with your medical providers... there is no situation where the risk is zero. I will point out, again, however, that children, even with these underlying conditions ten to do very well.”

Are infected children less likely to infect others?

Eckard: “This is a maybe. It depends on the study, we have very few studies, you know. This started in January, February, March, and studies that were published in May may no longer be relevant to studies published in July. It does seem that children are unlikely to be the main drivers of the pandemic. We will see a little bit more when school opens. I hope that this is true, but I caution you to take this at face value until we know a little bit more.”

Should I be worried about my kids getting the virus by touching something at school?

Eckard: “The majority of transmission occurs when you’re standing close to somebody and you’re spraying large droplets on them just like any other virus. The one caveat, I would say with COVID, is it’s extremely contagious, at least in adults, much more than a lot of infectious diseases. And so this has been one of the challenging parts. You can, in theory, get this from touching surfaces that have virus. That risk is not zero, but it’s much lower than if somebody sneezes on you.”

What is “cohorting” and what are the benefits?

Eckard: “Cohorting means that you define a group, say a classroom or even a smaller group and those kids, kind of, stay together all day and you try to minimize the crossover of students from other cohorts. So that if you have an outbreak, or if you have a case, you minimize the risk of the number of people being exposed.”

What are some alternative ways of cleaning?

Eckard: “Good, old fashioned diluted bleach is your best bet. You can do other things but not all chemicals are approved, and some have not been proven effective.”

What about masks?

Eckard: “I know that in the country everybody has an opinion about masks. Some of that is because things evolve and even though we didn’t think masks were all that necessary in February or March, it’s very clear now that they play a fundamental role in decreasing the spread of virus. You have to teach your children how to do this and and do the best that you can for younger children. Your expectations should be lower and maybe only [use masks] when they’re on the bus or in the hallway.” She recommends getting masks that fit children properly so they don’t slip or cause children to play with them too much.”

Should I be worried about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MISC) or worse symptoms from COVID-19?

Eckard: “It can be very serious but it’s relatively rare. You need to think about this, of course, when you’re sending your children back to school, our admissions for children [for COVID] have been very low. And a lot of those kids were admitted to the hospital because COVID kicked their underlying condition kind of out of whack.”

Eckard said right now, she does plan to send her 3-year-old and 5-year-old children back to school but she said she is scared.

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