CASPER, Wyo. — The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said on June 25 that their organization “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
In Natrona County, school and health officials have been working toward a plan that would allow classes to be taught in person during the fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year, though the plan may also include virtual options to accommodate students and staff who need or prefer to stay home due to COVID-19.
NCSD closed schools on March 16 amid the COVID-19 pandemic before moving to a virtual education model for the rest of the 2019-2020 spring semester. The AAP says it is important to find a way to offer in-person instruction despite the risks posed by the pandemic.
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“The importance of in person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the AAP said. “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”
“This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.”
While the AAP supports plans that would welcome students back to schools in the fall, they add that the plans should take into account the role children can play in transmitting the COVID-19 virus.
“Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2,” the AAP said. “Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
“In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.”
The AAP add that policies should work toward risk mitigation rather than attempting to completely eliminate potential risks.
Natrona school and health officials are working on a number of policies aimed to limit the potential spread of the virus. During the NCSD Board of Trustees June 8 meeting, Trustee Kevin Christopherson said he fully expects school to see positive cases of COVID-19 if schools are able to welcome students and staff back this fall.
In addition to social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, policy makers in Natrona are considering other mitigation measures such as testing and keeping students in the same cohorts as much as possible. Casper-Natrona County Health Department Executive Director Anna Kinder said that face coverings can be important but acknowledged it has been a struggle convincing some in the community to wear them.
“I will not lie, that is one of the most difficult areas that we have,” she told the trustees during their June 8 meeting, noting that a lot of people don’t see the need or don’t want to wear face coverings. “There is a lot of shunning to those people who do wear them.”
Trustee Dave Applegate said he thought it would be very difficult to require students of any age to wear the face coverings.
“I think mask wearing for children can be very difficult,” he said. “I don’t care if they are young children or even high school kids, to ask them to wear a mask all day is very challenging.”
Kinder noted that there are still a lot of unknowns about COVID-19 and things continue to change. She added that face coverings are a part of that on-going change as well, noting that there are masks made of material better able to protect against the spread of the virus now available.
She encouraged people to think about face coverings from a harm reduction standpoint.
“When I am in another persons space, close proximity, that’s when I really need to consider wearing a mask,” she said.
The AAP offered policy suggestions for various levels of education. Those suggestions vary depending on student age level in regard to things like the use of face coverings.
At the pre-kindergarten level, for instance, the AAP says that implementing the use of face coverings for children may be difficult. At the elementary school level, the AAP says “children should wear face coverings when harms (eg, increasing hand-mouth/nose contact) do not outweigh benefits (potential COVID-19 risk reduction).”
At the secondary level, the AAP recommends that students and staff wear face coverings in any situation where six feet of distance between people cannot be maintained.
The AAP also recommend keeping students in the same cohorts as much as possible. That’s a recommendation they offer at all levels. Another recommendation they add for the pre-K and elementary school levels is to use outdoor spaces whenever possible.
The AAP add that special education students “may be more negatively affected by distance-learning and may be disproportionately impacted by interruptions in regular education.”
“It may not be feasible, depending on the needs of the individual child and adolescent, to adhere both to distancing guidelines and the criteria outlined in a specific IEP (individualized education plan),” the AAP said. “Attempts to meet physical distancing guidelines should meet the needs of the individual child and may require creative solutions, often on a case-by-case basis.”
Should schools have to close during the school year, the AAP says plans should be in place to ensure students who receive free and reduced meals will continue to be able to receive food and also if such students can’t come to school due to illness.
The AAP also says that “existing school immunization requirements should be maintained and not deferred because of the current pandemic.”
“In addition, although influenza vaccination is generally not required for school attendance, in the coming academic year, it should be highly encouraged for all students,” the AAP says. “School districts should consider requiring influenza vaccination for all staff members. Pediatricians should work with schools and local public health authorities to promote childhood vaccination messaging well before the start of the school year.”
“It is vital that all children receive recommend vaccinations on time and get caught up if they are behind as a result of the pandemic. The capacity of the health care system to support increased demand for vaccinations should be addressed through a multifaceted collaborative and coordinated approach among all child-serving agencies including schools.”
The AAP offers a number of other suggestions for school policy makers to consider. Those are available here.
The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:
What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.
If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.
Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.
For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: email@example.com
- Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.