As a local pediatrician and the mother of two boys in the public school system, I was dismayed to find out that the Kailua/Kalaheo Complex Area’s plan is to hold off returning to school until January.
Coronavirus does not seem to be affecting children and adolescents to the degree that it has affected adults. Children typically have a milder course, though there are children who develop the multi- system inflammatory condition.
However, the pandemic has far-reaching effects on children. They are being isolated at home with little to no interaction with peers. Their interaction with their teachers is through distance learning and lacks the contact, closeness or the private conversations that students have with their teachers and school counselors.
And while there is definitely an improvement in the technology platforms and methods of teaching, there is more than just learning at stake here.
School provides much more than subject learning. It provides socialization, structure, personal interaction, safety for some, food for many and countless other benefits. Our state Department of Education deciding not to return to face-to-face learning until January is not a decision that considers all of these aspects.
As a pediatrician here in Honolulu, we are seeing a marked increase in suicide attempts, depression and eating disorders. There has also been an increase in child abuse. These events are likely only to increase as the economy takes a large downturn now with federal funding no longer coming in and businesses starting to close and increasing layoffs.
Being at home allows children to see what their parents are going through with unemployment and unpaid bills. School provides a respite from these things. It also allows our educators who are well-versed in the psychological welfare of children to recognize children who are struggling. We currently do not have these checks in place.
Coronavirus is not likely to go away any time soon, even with the addition of a vaccine. It will remain in our communities and we need to find safe methods for return to school and activities.
Masks, distancing, hand hygiene and staying at home when not well, are the mainstays of these measures but access to testing can be another method as well.
In Hawaii, we have the benefit of year-round wonderful weather and should take advantage of outside areas for learning environments. There will be coronavirus cases, but with the right procedures in place, it can be controlled and mitigated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics both support the return of our students to school — and we should, too. Our private schools are going back, and by not sending our public school students back, we are widening the gap of education that is already more pronounced in our state than in others.
Please use the national guidelines that have been published, and if you require additional guidance, the pediatricians of our state, myself included, are willing to help.
Dr. Jessica Kosut is a Kailua resident and pediatrician in Honolulu.