The loss of socialization among peers, as well as the lack of interaction with teachers and obstacles to the development of skills such as coexistence, leadership, negotiation and empathy have put the emotional and psychosocial health of the student at risk in the past year. student body.
Five pediatricians agreed, in separate interviews with Primera Hora, that rescuing the well-being of children and young people through face-to-face classes should not be delayed any longer.
“I agree with the opening of schools gradually … From a pediatric and health point of view, the neurodevelopment of children has been limited. This -which refers to the motor and social skills that children develop by interacting with other children- they will not achieve it with a computer ”, said pediatrician Mario Paulino Payano, highlighting the high incidence of depression and anxiety in minors.
These expressions arise amid conflicting opinions about the imminent resumption of face-to-face classes after Governor Pedro Pierluisi signed an executive order to make way for the reopening of schools as of March 1.
Students from kindergarten to third, who are in twelfth grade and those who belong to the Special Education program would be the ones impacted in this first stage of reintegration into face-to-face classes.
The also chief of medical practice at Ashford County Hospital stressed that despite the “low” level of pediatric patients who have been infected with the virus, the Education and Health departments must guarantee safe school campuses to avoid a rebound in cases that place the lives of minors and adults at risk.
For her part, the president of the Puerto Rican Pediatric Society (SPP), Carmen Suárez Martínez, said that if the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are followed , you can “contain the contagion” in the academic community.
“Going back to school, we are going to have more physically active children, avoid obesity because many students are likely to benefit from better nutrition, and protect some children who suffer serious social and family problems such as abuse and who are not identifying or that they do not have a place to go to feel safe at least some hours of the day, “said the pediatrician.
Measures to be implemented
For Suárez Martínez, the government’s greatest challenge is to identify schools that, in addition to ensuring physical distancing, are safe from earthquakes such as those that impacted the southern municipalities of the country at the beginning of 2020.
“There are a lot of schools that are not physically prepared to start receiving students. The logistics of each school already have to be defined. Before the beginning of classes (the schools) have to have cleaning materials such as soap, disinfectant, paper towels and any article that will protect children from acquiring COVID-19 ”, he stressed when indicating that this pilot project can serve as preparation for the start of a new school year in August.
The Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico – an entity that rejects the opening of schools now in March – has indicated that, within days of the date scheduled as the start of face-to-face classes, the Department of Education (DE) has not delivered the protection materials against the virus.
The disinfection equipment, as well as the spacing – of at least six feet – in rooms and hallways, the identification of isolation areas, the establishment of hand washing stations and an adequate ventilation system are requirements stipulated in the protocol for the surveillance of COVID-19 in the education system.
Although the DE has not yet specified how many schools will open their doors on Monday, information that they would confirm today, the Health manual stipulates that when municipal transmission levels are high, schools will be prevented from receiving their students.
“There are clear and precise guidelines and there is federal money to get the schools ready. There should be no excuses about the ability to bring schools up to date, ”said, for his part, the president of the College of Surgeons, Víctor Ramos Otero.
The pediatrician also stated that Health has a “solid case tracking and monitoring system.” According to this agency, the 855 schools of the public system and 347 of some 800 private schools are already registered in the BioPortal.
Self-certification of school facilities is Ramos Otero’s greatest concern, because if they are included in the protocols, “it would be very detrimental to health.”
According to the manual of the leading agency during this pandemic, educational institutions must submit certification requests and, despite being approved, they could receive surprise visits from any of the 800 employees that make up the Municipal Research System of Cases and Contact Tracking (Smicrc).
On the other hand, the pediatrician explained that “most” of those under 18 years of age who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 have been due to dehydration that causes fever as in any other virus, but not as a consequence of respiratory difficulty .
Fear of breakouts
“Scientific evidence has shown that children get sick less -especially those under 10 years old- and they have not been identified as major propagators of the virus,” said the former president of the SPP, Gerardo Tosca Claudio.
“COVID-19 does not originate in schools or spread to the community in general, but rather the school is a reflection of what happens in the community. There is a greater risk of contagion outside the school than in the school itself ”, he added.
In addition to the mandatory daily screening before entering the school campus, Salud recommended that molecular tests (every two weeks) or antigens (weekly) be carried out on a sample of 10% of the students, as well as teachers and employees. “The selection of students should be random,” reads the document.
However, Tosca Claudio assured that this measure is not advisable because “it cannot be prevented by saying that we are going to be sure that all boys and girls are negative (to the virus). You can take a test and you will catch it tomorrow ”.
For her part, pediatrician Hildamary Díaz Rozett stressed that “it would not be responsible for the rest of the population” to carry out screening tests for people who do not have symptoms due to the shortage that has occurred on some occasions.
Likewise, he pointed out that not having vaccinated the entire educational component before they return to their jobs in person will not be a problem as long as the basic measures to avoid contagion are respected.
“Definitely, if they were vaccinated they would be more protected, but if the safety measures that have been emphasized are carried out, such as hand washing, the use of masks and physical distancing, the risk of infection or contagion is reduced”, he pointed.
According to the Health protocol, if two positive cases are detected in a classroom, all students and the teacher must be isolated. If two outbreaks occur on the same campus, the school will be closed immediately.
To questions from Primera Hora about how possible emergency closings would affect students emotionally, the doctor in private practice indicated “that interrupted education cannot affect more than being locked up for a year has already affected them.”
“We cannot have children in a bubble. They have already been isolated enough this past year. If parents make sure that their child’s school has the appropriate protocols, the balance must be tipped to take them to school so that they can socialize and improve their psycho-emotional health, ”said Díaz Rozett.
Recommendations for parents and guardians
Almost a year has passed since the first case of COVID-19 reported in the country and as the pandemic has progressed, the guidelines have been modified. However, the five pediatricians consulted by this means agreed that the education of parents and guardians of students will be essential for their return to the classroom.
Model by example, accustom children and young people to wearing masks for periods of time close to four hours, inculcate frequent hand washing, do not take children to school if they have symptoms related to COVID-19 and keep constant communication with the educational component were the recommendations of the doctors.
“We know that children have to repeat things a thousand times. Even if we look like a tape recorder, we must follow up to avoid contagion ”, advised Suárez Martínez.
Regarding the decision to send children and young people to school, the president of the SPP urged that each family make a decision based, among other things, on the student’s health conditions and the needs of other components of the family nucleus.
“However, we have to say that the vast majority of children are suffering effects on their development from this pandemic that, perhaps, we could control if they return to school,” concluded the president of the SPP.