How to go Back to School Series (3 of 3)
Supporting Mental Health and Peace of Mind
Did you miss part 1: Click here to read our take on the public health landscape and how to prepare when considering a return in the fall.
School districts are increasingly concerned about how COVID-19 will affect protocols and practices when students return to school. The Institute for Education Innovation has started a dialogue with Superintendents about what to do and how to prepare. Hazel Health was asked to respond with the medical perspective on what to consider when thinking about re-opening.
Hazel Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz, and Hazel co-founder/ Head of Education Raquel Antunez collaborated in this 3-part Q&A format to address questions asked by superintendents, and provide clarity on what steps districts can take next.
Questions sourced directly from IEI’s Superintendent Partners
Q: Do you think that adults and students will all need to be tested before they can return to work/school? It seems that we would need to know that everyone in our schools is COVID-19 free, no?
Ideally, and from a medical perspective, we would like to see everyone get tested for antibodies. In an ideal world, we would have those who return to school who have immunity against COVID-19. In the absence of universal antibody testing, there continue to be risks associated with contracting and spreading the virus. However, in reality, testing has been difficult, sporadic, and the results have been misleading in certain circumstances. Thankfully, there have been incredible improvements over the past few weeks and we are hopeful that continues.
Regardless of how improved testing does get rolled out, it’s vital for schools to provide clear guidelines for families who have been exposed or are showing symptoms. In the districts that have partnered with Hazel to provide virtual healthcare, parents can contact a doctor before school to help decide whether they should send their child in based on their symptoms. Our team is aware of each individual school district’s policy, and can also connect students to other services they need to stay home.
Based on what has happened over the past few weeks, it is expected that this virus will be in the population for longer than just the start of the school year this fall. An ongoing, and robust approach to managing public health within the school setting are going to be critical throughout the 2020-2021 school year and possibly beyond.
Q: Forehead Thermometer: Do you recommend school districts using forehead thermometers for all employees? If yes, for how long?
There are three primary medical interventions we think are useful for school districts to implement for all employees when it is possible to do so: nasal swabs to test for active COVID-19, antibody tests to determine immunity, and vaccinations. While we wait for this to become possible, we will need to rely on other tools like digital thermometers to help detect and prevent infection. Until there is a vaccine available, using thermometers will likely become the norm in a variety of public spaces.
Beyond taking temperatures and understanding health status, it’s also critically important to consider the role of remote learning and telemedicine. Both students and employees may develop symptoms and be asked to stay home for multiple days—or even weeks—depending on the local situation and home exposure. While at home, access to virtual healthcare will help families manage through how to bring their children back into the classroom safely. As we use forehead thermometers to detect potential symptoms, we’ll need to keep in mind how we can remain flexible across the board.
Q: Can we increase access to mental health professionals? We need to prepare for increased stress and anxiety from our students.
One of the most important considerations during this crisis and in its aftermath is the mental wellbeing of students, staff, and the community at large. The mental and emotional toll this crisis has taken on individuals is immense and will be felt for months and years to come. Many students were in very vulnerable positions before this crisis hit. That has worsened. Social determinants of health have changed drastically and situations are worse for many families than they were a few months ago.
As educators, clinicians, and community leaders, we can be proactive in adding and expanding resources available to students surrounding mental and behavioral health issues. Addressing the root causes of what manifests as mental health concerns is something school nurses, counselors, social workers, and school-based health providers are uniquely positioned to do. Hazel’s providers support partner school districts by addressing students’ urgent needs that lead to these deeper rooted issues through telemedicine services. Our doctors can identify when stress and anxiety are manifesting as physical symptoms – and many mental health issues have historically appeared with physical complaints first, so this is an important first step to discover where we can help with.
Hazel also creates space for students to share their issues through a sense of anonymity and comfort with telehealth. We take the crucial info shared with us and triage care to school counselors or other programs. Along with school leadership and increased funding support for mental health programs, we can make a difference in the lives of students who have been traumatized by the unforeseen consequences of this pandemic.