Everyone has a role in helping to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus this fall as children return to school.
Dr. Rachel Orscheln, a pediatrician and member of Christ the King Parish in University City, said that strategies such as health screenings at home before going to school, wearing face coverings, good hygiene practices, improved ventilation and keeping a distance of three to six feet will help decrease the spread of the virus. She recommended that people get the influenza vaccine, in an effort to reduce the transmission of the flu virus, which shares similar symptoms as
“We have to prepare ourselves that this will be a new normal for some time to come,” said Orscheln, an associate professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “That’s why we need to develop effective strategies for going back to school.”
Orscheln has provided her expertise to private schools in making plans to return to school. She also has served as a consultor to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and other organizations such as EducationPlus, a non-profit agency that collaborates with public school districts in Missouri.
SARS-CoV-2 the novel coronavirus is similar to other respiratory viruses, which spread primarily through respiratory droplets from the mouth and nose, which are projected through actions such as coughing, sneezing, singing, and talking loudly or yelling. The droplets “typically drop to the ground within three to six feet, which is why the distance is important,” she said, as well as wearing face masks that cover the nose and mouth. “If droplets from an infectious person fall in sufficient quantity onto the eyes, nose or mouth of another person, an infection can result.”
It’s also possible that the virus could spread through other methods, such as touching a surface that has droplets on it, or in certain circumstances where the droplets remain in the air for a longer period of time. “But data on transmissions does not suggest that the novel coronavirus is primarily spread these ways,” Orscheln stressed.
In general, children typically are the main drivers of infection, such as influenza outbreaks, but the novel coronavirus is different in that children under the age of 10 appear to be infected and transmit the infection less easily, she said. However, adolescents (children over 10) may spread the virus in a way that is similar to adults. Most children who are infected with the novel coronavirus will have minor symptoms and some will have no symptoms at all. Children under the age of 19 are hospitalized at much lower rates for
COVID-19 than adults, Orscheln said. The risk of serious illness increases with age, and with other underlying health issues, she added.
There is a better understanding of how to lessen the spread of the virus now compared to when the outbreak began last spring. “Back then, we were wiping everything down and not wearing masks,” Orscheln said. “We didn’t appreciate droplet transmission as the primary method of spread. Cloth masks can reduce this, and we have seen studies with reduced rates.”
She cited a study from the Centers for Disease Control in which two hairstylists in Springfield, Missouri, interacted with nearly 150 clients and co-workers before learning they had COVID-19. Both were wearing masks, and no symptomatic secondary cases were reported. The study reported that adherence to the community’s and company’s face-covering policy likely mitigated spread of the virus.
One of the biggest risks is transmitting the virus among adults, and Orscheln cautioned adults not to let down their guard when children are not around. “We can’t put our fear into being around children and then let down our guard with just adults being around one another,” she said. “If you’re around other people there’s not a zero risk.”
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