Going Back to School During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What does going back to school during the CO pandemic look like?

For most parents, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has complicated their plans to send their kids back to school.

Going Back to School During the COVID-19 Pandemic

We can likely all agree that if it could be made safe for kids, teachers, and other support staff in schools, then kids should go back to school.

So what’s the problem?

Depending on where you live, the size of your school, and the number of cases, etc., it may not be possible to make schools that safe. After all, how much social distancing can you do in a classroom full of kids? And will kids, especially younger kids, really wear a face covering all day?

Sending Your Kids Back to School

On the other hand, if your community is doing a good job of keeping COVID-19 case counts down, then maybe it is safe, or at least, safe enough, to send most kids back to school.

Online or virtual schooling will be a safer option for higher risk kids.
Online or virtual schooling will be a safer option for higher risk kids. Fill out and review the CDC’s Back to School Decision Making Tool with your pediatrician if you aren’t sure what to do about school.

Going back to school might be a good option for:

  • kids who are healthy, without any high risk medical conditions, like diabetes or poorly controlled asthma
  • kids who have no high risk contacts at home, keeping in mind that in addition to having a chronic medical problem, the risk increases with age, especially once you reach age 65 years.
  • kids who have an IEP or get any kind of services or therapy at school that you can’t get at home
  • kids who did poorly with online school last spring
  • kids who are eager to go back to school

Most importantly, going back to school might be a good option for your kids if you are confident that your school has a good plan to keep your child and everyone else in the school safe.

Do they have a plan to cohort kids together, so that every kid in the school isn’t mixing with each other? What is their plan if someone gets sick? What is their plan if a lot of kids get sick?

It is also important to remember that virtual school isn’t a good option for everyone. Having a safe school to go to will be important for those kids who don’t have a parent or caregiver at home to help them with school or because they don’t have a reliable internet connection, etc.

Going to the School Nurse During the COVID-19 Pandemic

If your kids do go back to in-person school, what happens if they get sick?

“Immediately separate staff and children with COVID-19 symptoms (such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath) at school. Individuals who are sick should go home or to a healthcare facility depending on how severe their symptoms are, and follow CDC guidance for caring for oneself and others who are sick.”

Operating Schools During COVID-19

Should they go see the school nurse, if your school is fortunate enough to have one?

“School nurses are essential healthcare providers in the community working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in schools.”

Considerations for School Nurses Regarding Care of Students and Staff that Become Ill at School or Arrive Sick

In addition to the problem with a bunch of contagious kids in the school nurse’s office, it is easy to see that it will difficult, if not impossible, for health care professionals at school to easily know if a sick child has COVID-19, strep throat, a cold, or the flu, etc.

“The overlap between COVID-19 symptoms with other common illnesses means that many people with symptoms of COVID-19 may actually be ill with something else. This is even more likely in young children, who typically have multiple viral illnesses each year.”

Screening K-12 Students for Symptoms of COVID-19: Limitations and Considerations

There is also the fact that a child who goes to the nurse’s office with a cough, runny nose, or headache, etc., might not have a contagious disease at all, as these symptoms can also be caused by asthma, allergies, and migraines.

“Remember that schools are not expected to screen students or staff to identify cases of COVID-19. If a school has cases of COVID-19, local health officials will help identify those individuals and will follow up on next steps.”

Considerations for School Nurses Regarding Care of Students and Staff that Become Ill at School or Arrive Sick

Fortunately, there are plans in place to deal with all of these scenarios.

Still, everyone should understand that most “sick kids,” whatever they have, will likely be sent home from school, just in case they have COVID-19. While that might sound drastic, the risk of getting others sick if they did have COVID-19 is too great.

“Actively encourage employees and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home.”

Operating Schools During COVID-19

So how do these plans work?

Back to School COVID-19 Sick Policies

While each state and school district seems to have their own back to school sick policy, in general, what to do should likely depend on the child’s symptoms, the possibility of an alternative diagnosis for the symptoms, potential for exposure to someone with COVID-19, the amount of community spread in the area, and COVID-19 test results, etc.

The Minnesota COVID-19 decision tree is for people in schools, youth, and child care programs who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
The Minnesota COVID-19 decision tree is for people in schools, youth, and child care programs who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

If one thing isn’t clear in all of these guidelines, it is to your pediatrician – we typically won’t be able to simply say that your sick child doesn’t have COVID-19 and can go back to school.

“A doctor’s note or negative test should not be required to return to school. Some tests can yield false negatives if taken too soon, and individuals with confirmed COVID-19 can continue to test positive after the infectious period has passed. Antigen tests currently are not as reliable in determining a true negative.”

Decision Tree Tool for School Nurses

Fortunately, many of the guidelines seem to understand this and don’t require a doctor’s note when kids have very mild symptoms.

“If the person is sent home, they can return to the school or program 24 hours after the symptom has improved.”

COVID-19 Decision Tree for People in Schools, Youth, and Child Care Programs

They aren’t perfect, but hopefully we can use these guidelines to help balance keeping those kids who might have COVID-19 out of school, perhaps learning virtually, while those kids who don’t remain at their desks.

More on Back to School

About Those Rapid COVID-19 Tests

A company is selling rapid COVID-19 tests that promise quick results in 10 minutes. The only problem? They are not approved by the FDA…

While everyone has been talking about tests for SARS-CoV-2 infections, it is mostly the PCR tests from nasopharyngeal swabs that take a few days to get results.

The PCR tests that nobody can really get their hands on…

About Those Rapid COVID-19 Tests

Now, in addition to more and more of those tests becoming available every day, many folks are excited about rapid tests.

How rapid?

“The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid point-of-care COVID-19 test, that can deliver results in less than an hour.”

FDA Approves First Rapid COVID-19 Test

The new COVID-19 test, from Cepheid, provides results, also from a nasal swab, in about 45 minutes.

Most importantly, like strep and flu tests, this new COVID-19 rapid test doesn’t have to be sent anywhere. That doesn’t mean that your pediatrician will be able to see you and run a rapid COVID-19 test anytime soon though.

“The test has been designed to operate on any of Cepheid’s more than 23,000 automated GeneXpert Systems worldwide, with a detection time of approximately 45 minutes.”

Cepheid Receives Emergency Use Authorization from FDA for Rapid SARS-CoV-2 Test

It needs the specialized, and expensive, GeneXpert System to run.

Who has these systems?

Mostly hospital labs.

And that’s great news!

Even if the test could be run in your pediatrician’s office, a lack of personal protective equipment would still limit how much testing they could do.

On the other hand, a fast test that could be run in big hospitals will help them set up centralized, mobile testing centers.

Unfortunately, in addition to the very real rapid COVID-19 test from Cepheid, we are seeing many other rapid tests pop up that are not FDA approved!

COVID-19 test results in 10 minutes? From a blood sample?
COVID-19 test results in 10 minutes? From a blood sample?

Among the tests that you should be especially wary of are those that say they give quick results from a blood sample – a serology test.

“Initial work to develop a serology test for SARS-CoV-2 is underway at CDC. In order to develop the test, CDC needs blood samples from people who had COVID-19 at least 21 days after their symptoms first started. Researchers are currently working to develop the basic parameters for the test, which will be refined as more samples become available. Once the test is developed, CDC will need additional samples to evaluate whether the test works as intended.”

Serology Test for COVID-19

Unfortunately, these types of serology tests which look at antibody levels are not yet available – at least they aren’t available in the United States.

Several companies have begun the application process with the FDA under the COVID-19 Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) though.

We will have to see if they really work and how long it takes for them to get approved.

What else isn’t available yet? There are no FDA approved home COVID-19 test kits, even though many companies and some physicians are selling them…

More on Rapid COVID-19 Tests

Getting a Covid-19 Test Before Going to Summer Camp

Who told your child’s summer camp to test all of their kids for COVID-19?

Are your kids among the 11 million kids who usually go to a summer camp or day camp each year?

Do you have any memories about summer camp from when you were a kid?
Do you have any memories about summer camp from when you were a kid?

Are they going this summer?

Did you plan for a COVID-19 test?

Getting a Covid-19 Test Before Going to Summer Camp

While many parents are likely thrilled that their kids can still even go to camp, they might be confused on why they need to get a COVID-19 test if their child hasn’t been sick.

Your pediatrician is likely shaking their head about it too.

Memories of summer camp this year might include a weekly nasal swab for COVID-19 testing.
In addition to pushing tests while staff and kids are at camp, some camps want to have kids tested before they arrive.

After all, there is no recommendation for general testing in the guidelines for opening up summer camps.

Instead, the CDC says to “screen children and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure.”

“He said that optimally camps would retest each camper upon arrival and several times more through the summer: six times for a seven-week session and four times for a five-week session.”

Summer Camp Kids Are America’s Coronavirus Test Subjects

The CDC guidelines on Youth and Summer Camps do mention testing.

“Some camps might have the capacity to conduct COVID-19 testing. CDC has guidance for who should be tested, but these decisions should be made in conjunction with state and local health departments and healthcare providers.”

CDC on Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps

But still, that guidance isn’t to test everyone, but only those who are high risk, with symptoms, or with suspected COVID-19.

What’s the problem with testing everyone at camp?

It could lead these camps to rely too much on testing instead of cleaning and disinfecting and encouraging hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, cloth face coverings, and social distancing, etc.

Remember, COVID-19 tests can give false-negative results, so some people might actually be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and have a negative test. Without a healthy environment at camp, that person might get many other kids and staff members sick.

And a true negative test just means that you are negative when the test was done. It doesn’t mean that you will remain negative until you have your next test.

Also, just because you aren’t testing everyone doesn’t mean that you can’t test those kids and staff members once they begin to show symptoms.

Are your kids going to summer camp this year?

Do they need a COVID-19 test before they go and while they are at camp?

More on COVID-19 Tests for Summer Camps