River Valley doctors weigh-in to provide advice to schools opening amid pandemic

Coronavirus

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – As the clock ticks down to the start of a new school year, a group of local pediatricians are weighing in on how to keep students healthy this year.

They wrote an open letter to districts in the River Valley stressing the importance of getting kids back in the classroom but not without some precautions

In just one week students will fill the halls of schools across the state just as COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

“We’re not very confident. We’re feeling very worried at the moment,” parent Dennis Freeman said.

Freeman has four kids enrolled at schools in the River Valley. He worries about one of his children, who is too young to get the vaccine, most of all.

“Our youngest child she has asthma. She’s on the strongest medication we can get her on Symbicort. So, she’s about a bad month away if she gets really sick from being on COPD medicine,” Freeman said.

He understands the importance of in-person learning, but wonders at what cost.

“Of course the kids miss being at school, miss making friends, they miss seeing people. You kind of have to make a decision is isolation worse for their mental health than being put on a ventilator,” Freeman said.

Millard Henry Clinic Pediatrician Dr. Chad Masters said the best place for kids to be is in school. He said that is because he’s seen the mental toll spending time behind a screen has taken on his patients.

“This was elementary all the way up to high school we saw increased cases of anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideations,” Dr. Masters said.

He said kids need that face-to-face interaction, but to keep them in the classroom they need to follow some guidelines.

“We’re definitely seeing more symptomatic kids with COVID,” Dr. Masters said.

Local pediatricians sent out a letter to all districts in the River Valley asking staff and students 12 and older to get the vaccine. Along with pens and pencils, add a mask to the school supply list.

“We have seen evidence in our clinic visits that the precautions we took at the beginning of the pandemic seem to help at least reduce respiratory viruses,” Dr. Masters said.

For Freeman, he said all his kids will be wearing a mask in class if they go back. He is hoping that isn’t a choice but a requirement for everyone hitting the hallways.

“Trust the doctors, trust the medicine,” Freeman said.

Right now, districts can decide whether or not to require masks for staff and students. So far, no district in the River Valley has made that announcement.

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