Susan Coffin

Susan Coffin, physician for Division of Infectious Diseases at CHOP, talks during a virtual press conference Tuesday. — Screenshot

Experts from the Children Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) on Tuesday discussed measures schools and families can take to decrease the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, along with how to address anxiety and stress children will face this upcoming school year.

“The principles that various institutions are using to keep kids safe when they come to school should look a lot like what you’re seeing in communities,” Division of Infectious Diseases at CHOP physician Susan Coffin said during a virtual news conference.

While evidence suggests that children are not as susceptible as adults to the novel coronavirus, Coffin said, there are still “many factors schools need to consider for the upcoming school year.”

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“Before school reopens for in-person instruction, I would like to see a good handle on viral transmission,” Coffin said. “The schools need to be adequately resourced and there also needs to be a plan to keep children and staff safe.”

Masks, social distancing and watching for symptoms of COVID-19 are some of the guidelines that Coffin said “schools should also pay close attention to.”

“While a face shield is not quite as good as a mask in covering all aspects of the nose and mouth, it will provide a fair amount of protection against the spread of respiratory droplets,” Coffin said. “I always encourage people that your first choice should be a mask and your second choice should be a face shield.”

To comply with social distancing guidelines, Coffin said, “schools will have to get creative.”

“I think what you might see is a lot of schools looking at a hybrid schedule where you have about 50% of a class in-person on any given day,” Coffin said. “You also may see schools think of creative solutions like classes being held outside or in the gym.”

Jason Lewis, a psychologist for CHOP's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, said it’s important for parents or guardians to start conversations now about the coronavirus pandemic and what schools will look like in the fall.

“It’s important to talk to your child now about the pandemic and school,” Lewis said. “Allow them to ask questions and express how they’re feeling.

“Talk about the options on the table for schooling,” he added. “These conversations may help the parent and children from having anxiety.”

Lewis also said it’s important for children to feel they have “a safe place to express their feelings.”

“Validate their thoughts and feelings,” Lewis said. “Reach out to family and friends. Let them know that we all get scared and anxious, but that there are strategies and ways to cope and overcome some of those worries.”

The School District of Philadelphia administrators announced last week that they’re planning to bring students and staff back for two days of in-classroom instruction and three days of remote instruction each week.

Lewis said that no matter what education may look like in the fall “parents should start getting back into their daily routine with their kids.”

“Whether schooling will be in a building or over a video platform, parents should prepare now to get back into their school routine,” Lewis said. “Start your routine, get your plans in place, and prepare your kids for the upcoming school year.”

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