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Doctor on schools reopening: 'I wouldn't be surprised if we go on lockdown again'

Posted at 11:36 PM, Aug 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 00:03:11-04

RICHMOND, VA. -- As parents drop their children off at college and others prepare for school, many fear for their safety.

Although a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children make up 9% of all COVID-19 cases, Dr. Kevin Connelly, the Pediatric ER Director at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, said children are less likely to get seriously ill with the virus as opposed to high-risk groups and people over the age of 70.

“Of all the children in Virginia who’ve gotten Coronavirus, only 1 percent have been hospitalized and there have been no Coronavirus deaths of children in Virginia,” Connelly says.

Connelly still predicts that physicians will see an uptick in cases as students return to college campuses and schools. If spread of the virus isn’t mitigated, Connelly predicts learning institutions will have to close their doors.

“I wouldn’t be surprised, in a couple of months after school is open and colleges open, that we’ll go on lockdown again,” Connelly says.

While many larger school districts are planning a virtual-only start to the school year, several smaller school divisions and private schools plan to offer a hybrid of in-person and online classes. For those students, Connelly said social distancing guidelines are important.

“Reminding kids to try and stay away from each other, try not to touch other students, maintaining distance as best they can, wearing a mask,” Connelly said. “If you send your kids to school, send them with a couple of masks and send them with their own little bottle of hand sanitizer in case they can’t go to the bathroom to wash their hands. Those are little things that are going to help.”

Dr. Danny Avula, the Director of the Richmond/Henrico Health Departments, said he’s been in constant contact with school and college leaders to help develop policies to keep students, faculty and staff members safe.

“I’m working with all these institutions and they have been incredibly thoughtful about the policies they put in place,” Avula says.

While Avula predicts there will be an increase in cases, he hopes those cases will be isolated to the low-risk population. Avula said any decision to shut down learning institutions will be based on factors such as COVID-19 case numbers, percent positivity, and hospitalization and death rates.

“If July or August are any indicator here in Virginia, the greatest growth in cases was really in the 20 to 40 age group. We saw dramatic declines from our peak back in May to now, in the number of 70+ individuals who are getting COVID, so things like the hospital rate and death rates have really slowed.”

The challenge now, health officials say is to keep the virus from spreading to those high-risk communities by adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

“It’s in our hands right now,” Avula says. “Our actions and our ability to adhere to social distancing and handwashing guidelines, that will define how much community spread we see.”