Pediatricians advocate return to school

Breanna Edelstein, Andover Townsman, Mass.
·3 min read

Feb. 18—Overeating, anxious tendencies and more antidepressant prescriptions — local pediatricians say those are among the most common pandemic impacts on their young patients.

Some believe the cure is inside school buildings that remain mostly shuttered.

A medical practice compelled to speak out in a letter to The Eagle-Tribune is among in-person learning advocates.

"In schools that have accommodated full in-class learning, we have seen their students fare much more favorably, with far less detrimental effects and very low rates of transmission," the letter signed by the five doctors from Andover Pediatrics reads.

"We are asking our superintendents, principals, school committee members and teachers to have full confidence in their ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment for our children."

Their reasoning and concerns align with new information released Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education.

The organizations said jointly in a public statement, "It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services."

Most recent evidence suggests that K-12 schools with strict mitigation strategies — mask wearing, social distancing and frequent cleaning — have been able to remain open.

Experts say lower incidence of COVID-19 among younger children compared to teenagers suggests that elementary schoolers are at a lower risk of in-school transmission compared to older students, in middle and high school.

Andover Pediatrics Doctors Elizabeth Lentini, Nancy Hurley, Jennifer Hensley, Kenneth Chan and Robert Nelken said collectively in their letter that despite the daunting challenges everyone has faced, they have seen "a very encouraging trend" as more information is learned.

The doctors said school officials "should not allow fear of in-school transmission to be a major consideration in their decision making."

Dr. Daniel Summers, of Children's Medical Office of North Andover, said he has certainly seen children fall into similar hardships, but has also witnessed the opposite.

"For some kids remote learning has been fantastic," he said. "They've taken to it. It's suited them well; it hasn't been a negative for everyone, but it has been a negative for many people, kids and parents alike."

During countless conversations with families, Summers says the decision is a highly individualized one.

"Schools have worked hard, at the best of their abilities, to mitigate risk," he said. "That being said, I also understand people's reluctance to send their kids back. While I would love to have every kid back in the classroom, I don't think hesitation is unreasonable."

Summers said he has not personally treated COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms. The majority of tests given to kids at his office were only because of direct known exposure, he said.

"I've had patients with a minor stuffy nose," he said. "Generally speaking, the data is pretty clear that children are the population that has the least risk of the disease."

The Andover doctors say of the "many children and parents in our practice who have contracted COVID-19," none have been traced to school transmission.

Summers makes clear that prioritizing school means added vigilance about mitigating risk for community-based spread everywhere else.

"For people who feel strongly that school reopening needs to be a priority, that means that there has to be an equal commitment to conforming to social distancing recommendations everywhere else," he said.

The CDC has added new guidance to its website regarding daily operations and classroom setups, including printable posters and graphics.