Pediatricians urge layered approach to keep kids safe in school

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, January 6, 2022

As COVID-19 cases surge to record numbers in the state, members of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MSAAP) are reiterating their strong recommendation that schools and child care facilities implement school-wide mask policies for staff and students older than 2 years of age. This recommendation reflects guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help keep children and staff in school.

“We know schools have been doing a remarkable job at controlling the spread of COVID-19 while keeping kids in school where they belong,” said Dr. Anita Henderson, president of the MSAAP.

“As students come back during the Omicron surge, we need to see the successful strategies that worked last year reinstated, as some schools relaxed these policies in the fall. Measures like school-wide mask requirements and encouraging vaccination will help keep kids in the classroom, where they can learn, play and grow.”

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Pediatricians also recommend all eligible staff and children receive COVID-19 vaccines, which reduce infections, hospitalizations and death from the virus. Currently, children age 5 and above are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, with minimal exceptions.

Cases are rising quickly, with more than 17,500 cases reported statewide on Jan. 3 from the four-day weekend. Test positivity rates more than 25 percent in Mississippi indicate high community spread, a MSAAP press release stated.

MSAAP said hospital admissions due to COVID-19 are rising nationally for children. Currently, 5 percent of Mississippi’s children ages 5-11 and 35 percent of youth ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated, but too many remain unprotected.

Given these concerns, school-wide mask policies and vaccinations will help keep children, educators, families, and communities safe as children return to school after the break, MSAAP officials said.

School leaders have authority from the Mississippi Department of Education to implement school-wide mask policies and the Mississippi Department of Health said that even vaccinated students and staff should wear masks during the surge given the transmissibility of the Omicron variant. “Well-fitting masks and vaccinations are key components of a layered approach to safety that also includes efforts such as improved ventilation and social distancing,” the press release stated. “As always, families should call their child’s doctor with questions or concerns about symptoms or COVID-19 vaccinations.”

The Lincoln County School District is offering rapid testing at its schools. Superintendent David Martin said as of Jan. 3, they do not have a mask mandate reinstated, but officials would take advice day to day to keep their students as safe as possible.

“We were extremely busy these first few days back,” he said. “[We shared a letter] with our parents regarding COVID [and] we will monitor the data and alter plans as needed just as we have since this began.”

Brookhaven city schools have reinstated a mask mandate. “The Brookhaven School District will return to a universal mandatory mask wearing mandate for all students, teachers [and] staff,” said Superintendent Dr. Rod Henderson. “Anyone entering a Brookhaven School District building or vehicle must wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status. We will also continue to monitor state and local statistics regarding the COVID-19 virus.

“We encourage our parents and guardians to keep their child at home if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID or the flu. Also, if their child has been tested for either, please do not send them to school until their results are confirmed.”

Dr. Jeffrey Ross, KDMC chief medical officer and director of inpatient medicine, said there is really no way to differentiate COVID-19 from influenza based on a person’s symptoms since they present very similarly. “The only way is to be tested,” he said.

He also said COVID-19 incidence has increased dramatically with multiple hospitalizations. “The new isolation/quarantine recommendations are based upon an individuals’ vaccination status and for those who are boosted quarantine periods have been reduced significantly.

“Full vaccination continues to be the most effective measure to prevent serious illness from COVID. Please wear your mask in public settings and consider getting vaccinated.”