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Local doctor eases parents concerns for back to school

Schools across the nation are beginning to open up, leaving many parents facing the decision on if their child will return to school for in-person or stay home to do virtual learning.

There are many factors that come into play when making these decisions such as individual preference, health concerns, work situations and school considerations. According to Dr. Catherine Phillips, a pediatrician in Oxford, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to sending a child back to school or not.

“None of us know how this school year will look,” Phillips, the owner of Phillips Pediatrics, said. “We are all in uncharted territory as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all trying to do what is best for our own families, our community, and our world at large. The problem is that no one knows what the best choice is.”

Mississippi’s number of COVID cases has continued to rise and people are concerned about hospital systems being overwhelmed, especially in rural facilities with limited resources.

“Because COVID numbers are expected to continue to rise as more of the state reopens, there is thought that schools should not open until we see those numbers start to do down,” Phillips said. “However, others believe that delaying school start will cause more harm than good, and we surely don’t want the solution to become bigger than the problem.”

As parents are making the decision of whether or not their child with go to school or not, they should consider the full spectrum of risks for both in-person or virtual learning. 

“Every family has unique needs,” Phillips said. “Families with children or caregivers at high risk of COVID infection may choose virtual learning while families at low risk of COVID may benefit more from traditional school. Families with working parents or little resources at home may not have options for their children outside of the traditional school model. Children are not at a high-risk group for COVID-19, but they are a vulnerable population that needs sound nutrition, safety and education. We need to make a compromise to get our children back to school while also trying to keep our state as healthy as possible.”

Schools play an important role in children’s development. They support a child’s social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, reliable nutrition and opportunities for physical activity.

“Parents want to make the best decision for their children,” Phillips said. “They want to receive the education and social benefits that traditional school offers all the while keeping their families safe and healthy. Most of my patients with chronic disease or with family members at risk of COVID are staying home this year. One of my moms said her daughter with diabetes is learning virtually because she wouldn’t be able to forgive herself if something happened. That’s been the hardest part for everyone. Weighing the risks and benefits, and having to think about the what-ifs.”

Regardless if one decides that their child will do in-person or virtual learning this year, it is important that people continue to be cautious both at home and outside of the home.

“Parents can encourage their children to wear face masks, keep their hands out of their faces, and socially distance around peers. Everyone should be washing hands often, staying up-to-date on other vaccines, and following social distancing guidelines at home and work. Avoid large crowds, limit travel, and stay creative at home. The limited data we have from Mississippi schools that have reopened show contact tracing of children infected with COVID-19 were infected by someone outside of the school. Still, anyone with the virus can potentially spread it to others, so we want to keep as much infection outside of the schools as possible. We do this by following guidelines everywhere we go.”