Local health leaders on back-to-school risks and strategies

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As COVID-19 cases continue to increase on the High Plains, back-to-school for many kids in our area is just a few weeks away.

Casie Stoughton started Wednesday’s City of Amarillo COVID-19 briefing with a message for teachers: “Thank you to those teachers who are getting ready to go back to teach our kiddos, so our thoughts and prayers are with you as you’re going back…”

Local health leaders say back to school means an increased risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, especially if precautions are not followed.

“So I think any time you gather in groups, the risk of COVID-19 increases,” Stoughton said. “Knowing this foundational fact, there are lots of precautions being taken—masking, social distancing, all of those things we’ve talked about for so long are so important, and especially when we’re going back into school…”

“Obviously, any time we get gatherings, we’re increasing the risk,” said Dr. Michael Lamanteer, Chief Medical Officer at BSA Hospital. “I don’t think anybody knows what the perfect strategy is. We’ve got to keep the educational system moving forward for our children. We’ve got to have a plan in place and again, no plan is going to be perfect.

Public Health Authority, Dr. Scott Milton, said the public health department will help school districts in its jurisdiction as much as possible.

“I would love for us to have less generalized community spread at this point in time,” Dr. Milton said. “I think that if we can continue to mask and continue to practice social distancing, even if schools start again in two or three weeks, I think that is going to put us in a better position.”

Dr. Lamanteer and Chief Medical Officer at Northwest Texas Hospital, Dr. Brian Weis, both said kids are testing positive.

“In general, there is some decreased risk for pediatric patients compared to adults, although it does not mean that we don’t have pediatric patients that get severe infections because some do and honestly we’ve seen that,” Dr. Lamanteer said.

Dr. Weis added, “at Northwest, we’ve had a handful of kids test positive, including some infants. As far as I know, we’ve only treated one non-adult with Remdesivir because of the severity of their illness. Thankfully most of these kids are getting past it well, but we are seeing the positives.”

Health leaders say compliance is key to mitigation because the risks are increased not only kids and teachers, but also their families.

“So, it’s a calculated risk that we’re taking as the community and that’s every community across the state and country has to make these same difficult decisions,” Dr. Lamanteer added.

Stoughton said once school starts, we will have more indicators of how children will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, saying there will likely be changes to protocols and we will have to be flexible as a community.

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