No one seems sure what the 2021-22 school year will look like. But experts speaking at the latest Newsday Live webinar, "Kids and COVID-19 Vaccine: A Guide for Parents," agreed Friday that getting your kids vaccinated as soon as possible — and, having them follow mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines — likely will remain the best course of action for some time to come.
Robert Dillon, District Superintendent for Nassau BOCES, said he believes school cleaning protocols will remain in effect "at least for the next year" — or, as he said, "Until there's some word the COVID pandemic is over."
And Dr. Andrew S. Handel, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and assistant professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said: "The truth is we have no reason to believe there are long-term effects from these vaccines," noting he'd get his own children vaccinated as soon as they're eligible. The minimum age is now 12.
Handel also said children often prove to be more adaptable to change — and, more resilient than we believe — and that once pandemic protocols loosen he believes most will "bounce back quickly" to "life as we thought of it before the pandemic."
The experts agreed much of what happens next for school-aged children will be determined by state officials, the state Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Right now," Dillon said, "masks are required [in school]. But we would be looking to Albany for guidance, to our own health departments for guidance."
Dillon also said he does not believe continual mask-wearing has been a negative for students, though he said there have been concerns about those in speech and speech therapy classes, since instructors and students in those situations rely heavily on visualization to replicate mouth formations to properly pronounce words. To that end, he said, many of those programs have moved to modify mask rules to benefit students and instructors.
Both experts agreed infection rates for school-aged children are way down, protocols have worked, and vaccinations pushing us toward herd-immunity levels all mean the likelihood of fewer worries for parents, guardians and their kids in the coming school year.
"I wish we could say it's over and we're past all of it," Handel said. "The vaccines have been very, very helpful, but it's not over yet. The best thing we can do right now is we can all get our vaccines, so we can get this under control. We're not at the end of the tunnel yet . . . But, we're improving."
As Dillon said: "This is my first pandemic. Hopefully, it'll be my last pandemic."
But, he said, if he were asked today what any a parent or guardian should be packing for their children as they send them to school in September, Dillion said, his answer would be most simple — and, he hopes, reassuring.
"Chocolate chip cookies," he said.