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November 28, 2022
School fight against respiratory syncytial virus reminiscent of COVID-19
As respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to surge among children, schools are preparing for another winter marked by a collective illness that will require precautions similar to those taken during COVID-19.
During this season, facilities with younger children, such as daycares and preschool programs, may face a "triple epidemic" of RSV, COVID-19 and influenza.
For most adults and older children, RSV causes colds and flu-like symptoms that resolve on their own within about a week. However, younger children, especially infants and children who have not been exposed to the virus, are at high risk for serious illness.
Child care centers and classrooms are known to be vectors for pathogens such as RSV, a virus for which there is no vaccine.
Shannon Robinson, health and nutrition manager at Bright beginning, a nonprofit child care organization in Washington, D.C., says an important part of keeping children safe is clear communication between educators and parents, and that in addition to communicating symptoms, child care providers need to have strict standards for when children should stay home.
In addition to boundaries for child care providers, Lehnhoff stressed that parents should be "very, very aware" of the facilities they take their children to, asking providers questions about hand-washing policies, sanitization programs and what diet settings look like.
Major U.S. school districts told The Hill that while they are not mandating mitigation measures, they are encouraging parents, teachers and students to return to practices that became common during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Washing hands, disinfecting toys, keeping children home when they are sick - and clear communication between parents and educators - are all seen as key to keeping children safe this winter.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) acknowledged in a November press release that the school is experiencing "extremely high rates of respiratory infections in children. Children's hospitals across the country are facing bed and staffing shortages during the current respiratory virus season. Many have had to use emergency room beds due to department overcrowding.
The only available treatment for RSV is a monoclonal antibody, which is typically reserved for very high-risk cases as an active measure. Both Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Chicago Public Schools have made similar recommendations this season, but no direct orders have been issued. Precautions have been taken against respiratory syncytial virus even in non-traditional educational settings targeting students.
Erica Phillips is executive director of the National Association for Family Child Care, an organization that focuses on family child care programs, including small groups of children in home settings.
Family child care educators are taking the same steps as traditional schools and daycares, she says. Despite the anxiety and concern about the spread of the virus, Phillips said she believes child care providers can meet the challenge. She said:In the nearly three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, family child care educators have become masters of this."