It’s going to be hard to enforce hard six-feet social distancing rules as kids return to school this fall. That’s according to the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In a statement released Friday morning, the group says in-person learning and school attendance is critical for many students, especially more vulnerable students who can get left behind in the transition to remote learning. Because of that, it’s tough to get as many kids as possible back in school when strict six-feet social distancing rules are in place.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer's executive order temporarily closed schools back in March, three days after the first positive cases of COVID-19 were detected in Michigan. Schools have had to transition to remote learning for the remainder of the school year.
Dr. Sharon Swindell is the president of the MIAAP. She says there are other risk mitigation measures that schools can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Elementary school kids are capable of wearing masks in most cases. They need to be accustomed to them, they need to learn to use them. Maybe not pre-school, and maybe not the youngest elementary students. But it’s certainly feasible,” she says.
In addition to face coverings, there are other protocols that Dr. Swindell says are also feasible.
“Hygiene, hand-washing, cough/sneeze etiquette… Some facilities are able to put partitions on tables… certainly smaller cohorts of children at each school, and less movement within the school.”
Dr. Swindell says that many schools in Michigan provide students with critical nutritional support, like meals for students who are food insecure, as well as mental and physical health services, particularly for special education students. She also says that there are other barriers that remote learning present to families.
“I was talking to a colleague who was telling me about a family she cares for. The school district provided a laptop for the family, but (the mother) had to sign a disclosure form that said she would pay the school $1,000 if there was any damage to the laptop. That was $1,000 she didn’t have, and she had toddlers in the household. So she took the laptop and set it on top of the refrigerator and just never used it. That’s just one example of the barriers that exist for so many families.”
She says it’s also going to be especially crucial for kids to be up to date on all their immunizations and vaccines this fall before going back to school.
“We don’t want outbreaks of other diseases when children get back into a school environment. We certainly don’t want an outbreak of influenza clouding the COVID picture. Let’s make sure kids are going back to school up to date on the vaccines we already have. Let’s make sure kids are getting the influenza vaccine in the fall, and I think it will be critically important for children to be immunized against COVID-19 when a safe and effective vaccine is available.”