Would I be going back to in-person classes? Zoe, a 6-year-old girl with hereditary pancreatitis asked her mother when she learned that she was going into first grade. Her eyes lit with excitement; her face beamed with smiles as she recalled the names of her kindergarten classmates; oh yes! I’ll get to see Faith, Lisa, Henry, and oh Mommy even Joy!
The 2020-2021 school year was a very challenging year for children, parents, and educators alike. Not only did children have to deal with virtual education or a hybrid of in-person and online classes, but they also had to face the tough decision of staying indoors during major events and constant fatality reports of the pandemic in the media.
The questions many parents and children ask repeatedly as another school year approaches include:
Is it safe?
Is it necessary to go back to in-person classes?
What can we do to decrease transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 infection?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends in-person classes because in-school classes benefit children in multiple ways including enhancing academic, emotional, physical, and social growth. Furthermore, schools provide additional support services that benefit children. Children from low-income earning households may also not be able to complete homework due to limited computer or internet access. Therefore, in-person classes provide a lot of benefits which may not be gotten from virtual classes.1
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends vaccination as the most important preventive measure to stop the pandemic. Therefore, all adults and children 12 years and older should be encouraged to get vaccinated. However, children like Zoe less than 12 years old do not have any FDA-approved vaccine available yet. Gloria’s (Zoe’s mother) thoughts were flooded with multiple cases that have been reported about an association of acute pancreatitis in people with COVID-19 infection.2-4 However, she could take solace in the CDC multi-layer of protection for children going back to school, especially those who are not eligible to receive the vaccine. This multi-layer protection includes at least a three-feet distance between children with mask-wearing indoors, especially for children 2 years and older. Additionally, proper ventilation, handwashing, cleaning, disinfection of surfaces, contact tracing in addition to self-screening, isolation, and quarantine when sick is part of this multi-layer protection to decrease transmission and spread of COVID-19 in schools.5
Furthermore, the AAP recommends that schools take extra precautions to prevent transmission and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These include proper ventilation, limiting students’ movement between classes to prevent crowding of hallways, decreasing class sizes, increased outdoor activities in the school such as eating, playing, and other extracurricular activities. They also recommend limiting high touch surface areas by opening classroom doors and having students eat lunch on their classroom desks if small group outdoor meals is not possible.1
In conclusion, Zoe can be safely prepared for going back to in-person classes in the coming school year with the above measures outlined by the CDC and AAP. There are ongoing clinical trials of vaccination of younger children. Therefore, children like Zoe who are less than 12-year-old may be able to benefit from the vaccine soon. Additionally, we continue to encourage adults and older children to receive the vaccine as this would decrease the rate of transmission in the community.
Have a safe and successful school year!
Chinenye Dike, MD
Assistant Professor, Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology
University of Nebraska Medical Center
- https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Return-to-School-During-COVID-19.aspx (accessed 7/16/2021)
- Hadi A, Werge M, Kristiansen KT, et al. Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19) associated with severe acute pancreatitis: Case report on three family members. Pancreatology : official journal of the International Association of Pancreatology (IAP) [et al]. 2020;20(4):665-667.
- Shinohara T, Otani A, Yamashita M, et al. Acute Pancreatitis During COVID-19 Pneumonia. 2020;49(10):e106-e108.
- Wang F, Wang H, Fan J, Zhang Y, Wang H, Zhao Q. Pancreatic Injury Patterns in Patients With Coronavirus Disease 19 Pneumonia. 2020;159(1):367-370.
- https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html (accessed 7/16/2021)