Hopewell Valley Regional School District hosted a virtual informational panel discussion for over 1,000 participants called “Reopening our Schools and Keeping Our Community Safe,” featuring local pediatricians and physical and mental health experts on August 11, 2021.
Dr. Rosetta Treece, superintendent of schools of HVRSD, opened the meeting and introduced the speakers. Then, panel facilitator, Dr. Vicky Pilitsis, the District’s new director of curriculum & instruction, posed some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and safety protocols to panelists: Dr. Robert Helmrich (Princeton Nassau Pediatrics), Dr. Glenn Palsky (Delaware Valley Pediatrics), Dr. Peter Wenger (District medical specialist / Princeton Sports & Family Medicine), Jonathan Woods (founder of Comprehensive Mental Health Services), Steve Papenberg (chairman of Pennington Borough Board of Health), and Tracy Shore (nurse practitioner at Delaware Valley Pediatrics).
Some questions included:
How much should we be worried about the virus? Dr. Wenger answered the question, based on his experience directing COVID protocols in the District and for other schools and organizations. “We’ve been working in the trenches for the last year and minimizing the risks is so important,” he said, stressing the need for protocols and masking. “The Delta strain is 90% of new cases and is highly contagious… New Jersey is now categorized as a “high” rate of total transmission,” he explained, adding that, “the goal is to plan for an effective fall — an in-person full-day education with extra-curricular activities.”
Are masks harmful to children? Dr. Helmrich emphasized that wearing masks poses no harm to school-aged children and offered fervent support for mask wearing, citing American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommendations.
Helmrich also addressed the public’s confusion about potential carbon monoxide poisoning from prolonged mask-wearing and explained that this notion has been thoroughly debunked, and “the article has since been withdrawn and retracted… It is no longer even recognized anymore.”
What about rashes or germs caused by masks? “The rash question is almost ridiculous. If your mask is too tight or the material is too abrasive, it will probably irritate a bit,” said Helmirch, who suggested that it is simply a matter of getting a good mask with the right fit. “Kids are adaptable and, with practice, get better at things.”
Helmrich similarly explained that there is no serious concern regarding germs in one’s own mask.“ If your mask gets nasty, change it,” he said. Further, Helmrich said: “Let’s approach [mask wearing] with altruism. In every district, there are fragile kids, and they will be even more protected by others’ masks,” Helmrich said.
Dr. Palsky agreed to the benefits of masks, citing a recent OpEd in the New York Times regarding researchers from Duke University who found that there was a discernible difference between schools that did versus did not enforce mask mandates. “The results were striking,” Palsky said. “Wearing a mask makes a difference — they really do work.”
Are masks damaging to mental health?
“Parents’ attitude about masks determines how anxious kids are about masks,” said mental health panelist Jonathan Woods. “It is very important for parents to soothe their kids and model comfort and optimism.”
How can we prevent spread?
One step that parents / students are urged to do : “As soon as your child has symptoms, call your school,” said Tracy Stone. “And do your moral duty; protect the little ones who can’t take the vaccine.”
Dr. Treece closed the meeting by reminding individuals that we got through last year “because we were able to band together across communities,” she said. “I know it is a challenge … it will be a challenge for us … to bring everyone back which is best for the kids. Our kids need to be in school.”
For more questions/answers, the District will make the video available for those who were unable to attend, and will also provide information outlining the FAQs.
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