Breaking down back to school sick policies, pediatrician answers frequently asked questions

Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 6:08 PM EDT
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FORT MILL, S.C. (WBTV) - As districts across the Carolinas finalized their Back-to-School plans, officials had to think through everything, including new sick policies for in-person learning.

For parents that may lead to questions like, “What happens if my child gets sick? Should I get my child tested for COVID-19 each time they are showing symptoms? What if my sick child has siblings in the same district?”

For Fort Mill mom of four, Brandi Jansen, they are inevitable questions that she has already started thinking about.

Breaking down back to school sick policies, pediatrician answers frequently asked questions
Breaking down back to school sick policies, pediatrician answers frequently asked questions(WBTV)

“My thought is we have to be flexible,” said Jansen. “We’re going to start out with these very strict guidelines for 10 days.”

Jansen is referring to Fort Mill School District’s current 2020 sick policy guidelines which state if a student or staff member shows symptoms of COVID-19, the person will be required to be out for 10 calendar days, including or plus three symptom-free days.

Under the policy, a person can return to school if they have a negative COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s note, “stating that a medical evaluation determined that their symptoms were due to another cause.”

The student must also still abide by all health regulations for the cause of the symptoms.

“We are leaning heavily on the South Carolina Department of Health, SCDHEC,” said Joe Burke, the Chief Communications Officer for the Fort Mill School District. “They are the experts in this field that we look to for guidance and we look to set this stuff up, so that’s where we’re getting our policies and protocols from.”

Because symptoms of COVID-19 can so closely mirror other illnesses and 10 days could mean a lot of time out of school, it has led parents to ask, “Should a child be tested for the virus each time they get sick?”

WBTV took that question to Dr. Carlos Paxter, a pediatrician at Sunshine Pediatrics in Rock Hill.

“If you seek a doctor’s help, they can tell you if that is necessary…” said Dr. Paxter. “You don’t have to be tested necessarily every time you get sick. I think that would be tremendously expensive and not very advisable for all families.”

Instead, Dr. Paxter insists call your doctor first each time your child shows symptoms, even if they are mild.

“They can be confusing, and this is why it is important to seek attention from your doctor because it’s not just COVID that we have around,” said Paxter. “We also have everything else that we’ve been having over the years.”

Dr. Paxter says they expect to do a lot more testing at his office this year and not just for COVID. He expects more Flu and RSV tests to try and help narrow in faster on what a child may be sick with. He also adds a simple call may rule out a doctor’s visit and could provide better insight for other members of the family.

Right now, under Fort Mill’s school policy as long as no one in the home has tested positive for COVID-19, a sibling of a student with symptoms can still go to school. That’s something mom Brandi says they likely won’t do with so many unknowns.

“If my kid had a symptom, I would keep the other two home until we see how it’s going to pan out,” said Jansen. “I would hope parents would go with your gut, as well, and if you think that your kid has symptoms go ahead and presume that your other two are positive and keep them home until proven otherwise-- because it’s just not worth it.”

Jansen added while 10 calendar days may be a long time to be out of school if a child has symptoms, she’s grateful for all the district has done to think through its policies ahead of the new school year.

“It’s mind-blowing the logistics they have to do, but I love the thoughtfulness that’s going into trying to give our kids as normal as possible of a school year, but also keeping in mind social distancing and safety,” said Jansen. “I realize we have to be flexible and things are probably going to have to change as more information comes our way, but I think it’s the best we can do with what we have.”

Fort Mill school leaders say they also understand 10 calendar days is a long time to be out of school, but they plan to work with students on making up their work like they would if we were not in a pandemic.

Each school district’s sick policies may vary from district to district, so be sure to review your district’s full plan. You can find your district’s plan by clicking here.

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