Expert Panel Navigates the Road Back to School

School administrators, nurses and teachers are trying to develop plans to bring students back for critical in-school learning while keeping staff and immune-suppressed students safe.

School administrators, nurses and teachers are trying to develop plans to bring students back for in-school learning while keeping staff and immune-suppressed students safe.

But reopenings have become the latest political controversy amid the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Respected scientific authorities like Dr. Anthony Fauci have opined that policies must be context and community specific.

As everyone is still trying to navigate uncharted waters, MJH Life Sciences™ hosted a webinar "Debating the Road Back to School," Thursday, August 20, at 6PM EDT.

The 1-hour live event went beyond the soundbytes which dominate the usual school reopening conversation to discuss nuances of current CDC guidance, outline what a safe return-to-school plan looks like, and share advice on how to counsel parents through this confusing time.

The webinar featured top minds in the field:

  • Moderator: Kathleen Kenny, PharmD
  • Panelist: Donna Hallas, PhD, PPCNP-BC, CPNP, PMHS, FAANP, FAAN
  • Panelist: Paul Lipkin, MD

Kenny is president and CEO of Med Ink Exec, LLC. and has over 20 years of clinical training and experience.

Hallas is a clinical professor and director of the Pediatrics NP Program at New York University Meyers College of Nursing. She has presented nationally and internationally on her research that focuses on improving healthcare outcomes for vulnerable children in the pediatric populations. Her current research is on Vaccine Hesitancy and Vaccine Resistance in prenatal women and mothers of young children.

Lipkin is an associate professor of pediatrics at the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as well as KKI’s director of Outpatient Medical Services. Dr. Lipkin’s clinical and research careers have focused on the early identification, evaluation, and treatment of children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, including autism, learning, and attention disorders.

Attendees also had the opportunity to ask our panel questions during the webinar.

At the start, Dr. Hallas emphasized the paucity of solid data when it comes to the exact role or lack thereof of children in driving community transmission.

However, Dr. Hallas also emphasized that children clearly can become sick with the virus, despite a higher proportion of mild or asymptomatic cases. While they may be outliers statistically, children in the US have been hospitalized and understanding their risk is important.

Dr. Hallas concluded her opening remarks by highlighting areas for future research: Which children are actually spreaders of infectious virus, which children are asymptomatic, which become symptomatic after a time?

Dr. Lipkin agreed that much remains to be seen.

“We don’t know much about children who are not so sick, just those that end up hospitalized. Our screening systems are not particularly targeted toward children,” Lipkin noted.

For positive children, it may be of particular import to test antibodies and learn more about the virus’ characteristics in mild cases.

Dr. Kenny agreed as well, and pointed out the foundational information that thus far in the pandemic’s trajectory children have not appeared to be spreading the virus at the community level as much as adults and do not have very severe outcomes on average.

Recent studies have presented case examples where children are capable of showing high rates of virus in the nose, but the relationship of these case examples to overall infectiousness is not clear-cut.

Symptoms for most children, the panelists explained, are mild respiratory or gastrointestinal illness. Concerns for school reopening plans are greatest for children and staff with comorbidities which would trigger complications.

Noninvasive testing is also important for us to improve our understanding of the virus in children, according to Hallas, who pointed out that we now have more age-appropriate testing methods than deep nasal tests.

While Dr. Lipkin expressed a lot of openness to flexible schooling, he also noted that young children are developing every day through socialization. Which raises the question of what can only be done right in person, and what through other means?

“We do worry about not having a formalized education, spending time on screens, doing what we’ve discouraged children from doing. We don’t want 2020 to be a waste of learning for children. We want children to be back in a learning environment. These are particularly important times for language, K-3, building blocks for reading and math. Critical learning periods. At the same time, middle school has new and different challenges such as independent learning.”

Dr. Kenny added that many kids rely on school lunches for their nutrition, rely on teachers to recognize problem dynamics at home, and that it’s important they get back to school safely. And the younger the children are, she opined, the more safe and important it is they get back.

Basic hygiene procedures like increasing uptake of handwashing or deep-cleaning bathrooms were highlighted as essential. Parents can set an example around practices like these and wearing masks during situations of close indoor contact.

If a particular school district closes, and many families within that district have parents who are single or both working, the panelists added that there has to be a strong community commitment to education which supports them in some way.