Cook Children’s 10-Point Guide for Safely Reopening Schools
By Marc Mazade, M.D., medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Cook Children’s Medical Center
1. Make sure all children are up to date on the routine childhood vaccinations needed for school entry. Access to medical offices, fear of leaving home and of waiting room exposures, and closed schedules of weary medical providers taking long-awaited vacations could result in a drop in vaccination rates against measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and the bacteria causing meningitis. A slight drop in vaccine coverage for measles, pertussis, and mumps translates quickly to a loss of herd immunity and outbreaks of serious, vaccine-preventable illnesses.
2. Revisit the latest masking decisions in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocate for masking in schools, especially in areas with moderate to high transmission of COVID-19. Follow guidance from your local health department which will be in line with the current state of the pandemic and regional community health recommendations. We have learned during the pandemic that most children, 2 years of age and older, can wear a mask.
3. Encourage COVID-19 vaccination of all eligible children and adults. COVID-19 efficiently spreads from adults and teenagers to younger children, not often the reverse. The key to keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic is getting unimmunized parents and all eligible family members vaccinated.
4. Arrange for mobile COVID-19 vaccination units to be present during orientation and events such as 'meet–the-teacher' nights. Gains in U.S. vaccine acceptance are likely to come amidst the group of people who don’t have a solid reason to avoid vaccination. Surveys reveal that most of these people were hoping that the pandemic was wrapping up and that they would not have to take a risk by taking an “untested” vaccine. They are reasonable people who describe themselves as cautious, slow adopters of things that are new. Most are not necessarily opposed to vaccination philosophically. They were just hoping to wait out the pandemic while relying on social distancing, masking, and herd immunity to keep them from having to getting a vaccine. With the loosening of restrictions and the surge in cases due to the Delta variant, many are now ready to stop holding out.
5. Continue to utilize strategies promoting social distancing in the classroom (by using partitions, separating desks, and cohorting of student groups), during passing periods (by keeping them short to discourage standing around in small groups and conversing), and during meal times (by moving meals outside in the fresh air, limiting line length for meal service, and by observing social distancing).
6. Re-enforce good hand-hygiene practices and cleaning of shared workstation areas with demonstrations that highlight effective hand hygiene and disinfection techniques.
7. Quarantine unvaccinated children and school staff members exposed to COVID-19 per CDC guidance. Vaccinated exposed persons may still get sick with COVID-19 and could be contagious, though their risk of hospitalization and severe disease is extremely low. Quarantine exposed, vaccinated persons if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 until testing results are available.
8. Provide interactive and technologically sound, distance-learning alternatives for immunocompromised students who should not be in the classroom during the pandemic.
9. Encourage precautions for bus riders like masking and opening windows to promote adequate ventilation and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 while traveling to and from school.
10. Above all, send recurring reminders to parents not to send ill children to daycare and to school. Many parents are returning to the workplace for the first time in over a year. They may be experiencing pressures to be physically present, rather than staying home with an ill child. Memories are short when pressures are high. However, we are still in the midst of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 600,000 people in the U.S.
There are currently 13 COVID-19 patients in the hospital at Cook Children's. We are now seeing as many as 60 positive COVID-19 cases per day, which is the highest number since February. The seven day rolling positivity rate is 8.6%.
Get to know Marc Mazade, M.D.
I went into infectious diseases because my infectious diseases professors were among the most passionate doctors and teachers who invested in medical students and residents.
When I got into infectious diseases fellowship and received that one-on-one training on a daily basis, my career started blossoming. Everything started coming together. My professors challenged me to keep reading, thinking, and researching, while instilling in me the quiet patience that's required to keep digging via a friendly conversation with kids and their families to uncover a potential diagnosis that might explain an illness.
Kids are fun to treat, because they aren't weighed down by a life of poor health decisions that compromise their chances of getting better. It makes me feel great to see kids get well and back to living the lives they love - playing with toys, going to school, drawing and painting, or participating in dance, sports, band, choir, youth group, or just spending enriching time with their families and friends.
I like mentoring upper level medical students and helping them develop their knowledge of infections that are common in children. They often remember things that I've forgotten. When I'm not at Cook Children's, I love working on my tennis serve and backhand, fishing the abundant lakes, streams and bays of the region, and turning the pages of a well written medical mystery novel.