What happens when a child gets sick at school this fall?

A glimpse on what might happen to kids when they fall sick this winter and how to get them back into school. 

The new school year brings reunions with old friends, new teachers and new classrooms.  But this year, it also brings a heightened awareness of back- to -school illnesses. 

My partner and I had made the decision, with scant information and many unknowns, to send both of our children to school this September.  The measures being taken by schools to minimize transmission of covid- 19, and our commitment to err on the side of caution influenced the decision.  Also, they both have good health conditions and our childcare options are limited.  So, while we knew it wasn’t a perfect decision, it made sense for our family, and we were looking forward to it. 

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Over the two years that my daughter has gone to school, she has often come home with colds, coughs, and stomach bugs.  Our pediatrician has assured me, time and again, that these illnesses are a perfectly normal response to the germs that are shared between children. 

Therefore, when my daughter developed a fever, after just five days of her new school, I felt equipped to handle what was going to be a weekend of rest for my daughter (and a lot of hand washing and vitamin C consumption for myself).  I planned to notify her school and sent a message to her pediatrician.  The response really put in perspective the difficulties of the choice we had made in sending our children back to school.

Also read: Covid-19: Italy reopens schools as 13,000 staff test positive

The pediatrician answer

The protocol and guidelines that my daughter’s pre- school released, state that in the event of illness, a medical certificate is required after three days of absence.  In the case of my daughter, who was experiencing a runny nose and fever, it made sense to have her evaluated by her pediatrician before returning to her class. But, her pediatrician had different instructions. 

“You need to take her Bambin Gesù, where she will need a medical exam and a Covid nasal test,” she told me. 

It appears that pediatricians are not accepting responsibility for children returning to school, and will not issue a medical certificate until children test negative for covid-19.

The new disease- control rules that I am learning only as we go along, make me nervous for my daughter and raise a whole new set of questions. 

Nonetheless, my partner and I woke up early on a Sunday morning and headed to Bambin Gesù children’s hospital, on the Janiculum Hill.  We miraculously found parking and entered the structure. 

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Covid-19 test at Bambin Gesu

Only one parent is allowed to accompany a child inside the examination room, so I brought my daughter to have her nasal swab.  The waiting time was short, and the staff were very kind.  But the swab was unpleasant for both of us, and I found myself wondering: "how were we going to do this every time my daughter got sick at school?"

Seeking testing at a single public site, that currently employs just one nurse to perform the covid test, will likely cause delays in testing, results, and a child’s return to school. 

As we get later into the fall, and flu season approaches, how will the public system sufficiently manage cases of illness? 

While I do not expect schools to become hospitals, and trust that families will take the responsibility of screening kids seriously, I am once again at a crossroads.  There is no secret formula to prevent kids from getting sick. 

But, how will I take time off of work, to bring my feverish child to wait in line at a hospital, to have an abrasive nasal swab, stay in isolation at home until we receive the results, make an appointment for the pediatrician, and attain a medical certificate, every time she comes home with a common school illness? 

I appreciate the strategy of local, state health, and education officials working together to remain vigilant, but it will be a difficult fall.  Is it worth it?

This open letter was sent to us by one of our readers, C.W.F.

What happens if....

What happens if my kid has covid

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