Can Cancer Kids Go Back To School With COVID- 19’s Delta Variant?
Weighing the Pros and Cons
While most schools across the country are planning to return to the classroom this Fall, another segment of children has other reasons to be apprehensive about returning to school; they are kids who survived cancer or who are currently fighting the disease. While most children across the country are holding onto the last days and weeks of their summer vacation during August, many children battling cancer instead continue to suffer extended hospital stays and challenging cancer treatments. Spending the remaining days before school in the warm sun sharing laughs with friends and family is not the experience most cancer kids enjoy. All children deserve to anticipate the upcoming school year with nervous excitement about seeing friends and meeting their new teachers. Unfortunately, for some cancer children, returning to school is not an option.
Covid’s Delta Variant
The continued uncertainty of COVID-19 and the delta variant may be weighing in the thoughts of parents who enjoyed the benefits of online learning for the past two years while their child battled cancer. Entering the third school year since the start of the pandemic, kids and parents hope that everything is behind them, but the delta variant and lagging vaccine rates show that the virus has not entirely gone away. Covid’s delta variant is a significant concern for most parents and a shut door to children recovering or currently in treatment for cancer. While some children returned to campus last year, many have not attended in-person learning for well over a year, so, understandably, children and their parents are anxious for the new school year. Parents of cancer kids are even more worried about returning to a classroom setting.
To Zoom or Not to Zoom
When the pandemic hit the United States and schools shut down, teachers, students, and parents quickly adapted to virtual learning. This shift benefited cancer kids who are often denied physical contact with the public because of their compromised immune systems during treatment and directly after. In addition, pediatric oncologists prevent many children under treatment from attending school for fear their compromised immune system is too vulnerable to viruses and disease. These children benefited from the improvements over time in distance learning, which became more organized. This allowed children to receive more structured and effective online learning.
Since children battling cancer learn from home or from a hospital bed, they benefited from more flexibility with their daily schedules. If fatigue set in during the day or if they had doctor appointments, pediatric cancer patients could more easily take time off and not worry about being pulled out of class or taking extended time off school. They were in the same academic situation as their classmates, and it allowed them to interact with their peers socially and not fall behind educationally or socially.
Benefits of In-Person Learning
There are pros and cons of distance learning that will be open for debate long after the end of the pandemic, but there is little doubt that in-person learning is vital to a child’s development. Children attend school primarily for academics, but they also learn critical social and emotional skills equally crucial to their mental and physical growth as young people. Human interaction was often limited during the height of the epidemic, affecting the mental health of both children and parents. But for children with cancer, there are these and other issues to consider when parents and guardians are making the difficult decision to send their child back into the classroom.
Risk of Cancer Kids Catching COVID-19 at School
Overall, children have a lower risk for serious illness due to COVID-19. However, it does not mean that there is no risk of kids getting the virus. Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows, as of July 15, 2021, over 4 million children have contracted COVID-19, and they represent 14.2% of all cases in the United States. Fortunately, the risk of severe illness in children is typically lower.
Cancer and specific treatments weaken the immune system so that cancer kids can be at a higher risk for infection. As we have seen over the past 18 months, information changes daily. So whether a child is currently going through treatment or returning to school after surviving cancer, parents must consult with their child’s care team before loading up their backpacks with new school supplies and sending them off to the classroom.
To School or Not to School in Person
Consider the following questions:
- What are your child’s current medical conditions and the status of their immune system?
- Are they currently going through cancer treatment or taking medication that may prevent them from returning to the classroom?
- Is your child over 12 years old and able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Will your child have regular contact with people who are at risk for contacting COVID-19?
- What are the health and safety precautions your child’s school is taking to reduce the threat of transmission?
Where to Find the Latest School Guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a great resource to find up-to-date information regarding guidelines for K-12 and recommendations for sending your child back to school in person this Fall. If you choose to send your child to school, there are simple precautions that your child can make that will reduce transmission risk:
- If possible, maintain a least three feet of physical distance between students and teachers when indoors.
- Wear a mask is around people who are not vaccinated.
- Practice good hygiene and regularly wash hands.
Stay home if showing signs of the illness and contact your health provider to determine if getting tested is appropriate.
Here to Provide Useful Information
COVID-19 continues to have lingering effects on the world nearly two years since its inception. Each day cancer families not personally touched by the virus face lingering consequences from the global impacts of the pandemic. Add to this the stress, turmoil, and uncertainty of childhood cancer. It all can be overwhelming, but we are dedicated to families during this uncertain time at Here To Serve. We can provide guidance and support during this cancer fight. Our Family Care Coordinators will help conduct a needs assessment and connect you with valuable resources personalized for your requirements.
By Chris Smith