With many schools across Georgia currently working on their reopening plans for the new school year—some with adjusted in-person learning options available—many parents are wondering whether it’s safe for their child to go back into a classroom or return to daycare during a pandemic.
“Our experts have been providing insights to the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) and certain school districts as they work to determine specific guidelines for how to return to school safely," says James Fortenberry, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “The safety of kids and educators is our No. 1 priority; the continued emotional, social, intellectual and developmental well-being of kids is essential.”
The most important thing is that your child’s school or childcare center has a plan.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outline the benefits of in-person learning because of the educational and developmental impacts, but it’s not going to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” Dr. Fortenberry says. “Each school system and childcare center is different and will have different requirements based on the local population and needs for that area. Returning in-person can be done safely in partnership with parents, schools and local health experts if it is balanced with local disease conditions and the ability to mask, distance, and manage the health and safety of students and teachers.”
Dr. Fortenberry adds that as a healthcare system, and based on recommendations from the AAP, it’s a Children’s priority to support the school districts and help get kids back into learning in some fashion. If your child’s school system is offering in-person options, we understand that it’s a very personal decision whether to send your child. Some things to consider, in addition to physical health, may include your child’s mental health, as well as her social and emotional well-being, and your child’s learning style. It’s also important to talk to your child’s doctors if you have concerns about her health. The CDC has created a school decision-making tool to help families with their schooling options.
“One encouraging note is that the prevalence of COVID-19 in children, as well as the severity of the illness in most children, remains very low,” Dr. Fortenberry says. “We have seen very few kids hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.”
According to COVID-19 testing conducted by Children’s, the percentage of children in the community without symptoms but with a positive swab test is less than 1%, or 1 in every 100 children. Therefore, the likelihood of a child without symptoms having the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in their breathing passages is currently quite low.
“The safety of kids and educators is our No. 1 priority; the continued emotional, social, intellectual and developmental well-being of kids is essential.”–James Fortenberry, MD, Chief Medical Officer
“That should give some comfort to families whose kids will be going back into the classroom or attending daycare,” he adds.
What should I keep in mind when reviewing my child’s school or daycare safety precautions?
If your child is scheduled to return to school or is going to daycare, or if you are planning to send your child to camps or aftercare, the CDC has provided guidelines regarding how children can return safely during COVID-19.
Here’s a checklist of things to keep in mind when you are reviewing your child’s school or daycare policies:
- What is the policy around masking and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and students? Is everyone required to wear a mask throughout the day? Will your child be able to safely adhere to these rules?
Note: According to the CDC, children younger than 2 years old should not wear a mask due to potential breathing concerns.
- Are they practicing social distancing as much as possible in the classroom, cafeteria, bathrooms, on the playground or bus, or in the gymnasium? Are kids seated, napping, eating or playing 6 feet apart?
- Are there strict hand hygiene guidelines in place for all students and staff?
- What are the immunization policies?
- How are they screening for symptoms? What is the policy on staff or students staying home if they have any symptoms? What is the school’s approach for students or staff who test positive for COVID-19?
- How are they handling communications with families? How will the school inform parents and staff if someone tests positive for COVID-19?
- How are they managing food safety and meal distribution?
The CDC has also created a checklist to help families prepare for in-person school or virtual learning.
“And most importantly, get a flu shot.”–James Fortenberry, MD, Chief Medical Officer
“Each school district and daycare is trying to come up with solutions,” Dr. Fortenberry says. “We have to remember that these are uncharted waters, and hopefully families can find comfort in knowing that each school system and daycare is trying to come up with the best combination of resources and is collaborating with experts like ours at Children’s.”
One of the most important things to remember is that if you or your child are feeling sick, stay home.
“We continue to remind families that you should wear your masks, wash your hands and watch your distance by keeping space between you and others,” he concludes. “These precautions will help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. And most importantly, get a flu shot. This year—more than ever—it’s important to get your flu shot.”
James Fortenberry, MD, Chief Medical Officer, first joined Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as an attending physician in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Egleston hospital in 1992. He was named Pediatrician-in-Chief in 2009, having previously served as Chief of the Egleston hospital Division of Critical Care Medicine from 2003 to 2009, Chief of the Medicine Service Line from 2009 to 2018 and Medical Director of Pediatric Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a service that provides support with a heart-lung bypass machine for gravely ill children with lung or heart failure.
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children's Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.