15 September 2021

Local Physicians' Plea for Increased Safety Measures in Desoto County Schools

Local Physicians' Plea for Increased Safety Measures in Desoto County Schools
09/15/2021

Superintendent Uselton and Esteemed Board Representatives:

We are a group of pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists who care for children in DeSoto County Schools who urge you to take the necessary measures to protect the children of Desoto County School system. Children are a unique, vulnerable population that we and the school board have a duty to protect.

Presently, COVID-19 rates are increasing at an alarming rate in the state of Mississippi and Desoto County, with nearly all cases attributed to the delta variant. The delta variant is known to be at least twice as infectious compared to previous variants. As of 08/24/21, the Test Positivity Rate in Desoto County was 20.9%, which likely underrepresents the true rate in the context of asymptomatic cases, home testing, and under-testing. Health officials have stated that positivity rates less than 5% are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19. As of 8/14/21, the school-age group (5-17 years) represented the highest number of new cases in our community, correlating with the start of school (msdh.ms.gov). Desoto County currently ranks third for highest rates of cases in MS.

Fewer than 40% of citizens in Desoto County are fully vaccinated, resulting in significant spread of the delta variant through our community. The highly contagious delta variant, in combination with our low vaccination rates, means that higher numbers of children will be exposed to COVID-19, resulting in a significant increase in children who develop serious illness requiring hospitalization. Currently, our local pediatric hospitals have reached record high numbers of COVID-19 admissions. Multiple children have died from acute COVID-19 infection or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) caused by COVID-19. School children are particularly vulnerable to the Delta variant because they are ineligible for vaccination; therefore, their only protections against the variant are masking, proper ventilation, adequate testing, and social distancing.

We also know that children are capable of spreading the delta variant. Currently, Desoto County is facing a catastrophic surge of COVID-19 patients. Intensive care unit beds in Mississippi, as well in as our neighboring hospital systems in Shelby County, are nearing capacity, causing tremendous strain on our medical system. Our emergency rooms are overwhelmed, and anyone seeking medical attention is at higher risk as a result. Essential procedures are being delayed, and we are facing the reality that people will die from treatable conditions because the hospital system is overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Universal masking is a tested, proven public health strategy for decreasing the spread of COVID-19. Masking in schools last year was also shown to be highly successful at eliminating influenza in children. We are now approaching influenza season, and if widespread influenza spreads in the community on top of the delta variant surge, the outcome will be disastrous. All citizens, adults and children alike, have the ability and responsibility to try to decrease the spread of COVID-19 to save lives and prevent the healthcare system from collapsing. We also have a specific obligation to protect our children from a preventable illness that can be devastating and fatal.

In addition to wanting to keep our children and community safe, we also have a collective goal to keep schools open this year. In just the first 5 weeks of school, the DeSoto County school district has reported nearly 8,000 students who have either tested positive, been quarantined, or had their school (or grade) transition to virtual or hybrid learning. This represents approximately 22% of all students in the district who have been directly impacted. If we do not take a more active approach to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 on our students and our community, education will continue to be disrupted. We urge the School Board to follow national medical recommendations and implement the following essential public health measures:


Universal masking:
o The country’s leading pediatricians, public health experts , and our local pediatricians fully agree on the topic of masking in schools. There are numerous studies and data points showing the benefit of masks in curbing the spread of COVID-19. Universal masking in Desoto County was highly successful last year and nearly eliminated influenza as well as student to student spread in our schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , and the Misssissippi Department of Health all strongly recommend universal masking in schools. Currently, 89% of all school districts in Mississippi are now requiring masks. Leaving masking optional undermines the efficacy of this important tool in decreasing spread of COVID-19.

Testing:
o Implement a policy of required testing for symptomatic students and staff prior to returning to school activities.
o The Mississippi Department of Health has resources available to implement a program of asymptomatic screening to detect infections early and minimize spread.
o Accept a positive home covid test as a true positive. While the home covid test lacks significant sensitivity to rule out Covid, it has high specificity with few false positives. Utilizing home tests eliminates unnecessary doctor office visits for confirmatory testing, decreasing exposure in our community, and allowing our pediatricians to focus on children requiring immediate medical attention.

Vaccines:
o Hold a panel discussion/Q&A session for parents, teachers, and students regarding the risks and benefits of vaccines with local experts from pediatric practices, LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
o Send a letter from district leadership encouraging all who are eligible in the community to get vaccinated to provide increased protection and ensure the best possible educational experience for our children.
o We recommend a policy of required vaccination for all teachers and staff in the district. The president of the American Federation of Teachers recently supported mandatory vaccination for teachers.
o Set up vaccination clinics at schools for eligible students, families, and staff. Through the Mississippi Department of Health, schools can partner with local vaccine providers to coordinate vaccination clinics at the school.

Other measures:
o Follow the CDC guidelines for isolation requirements and notification of parents for students who become symptomatic at school.
o As much as possible, encourage social distancing, particularly in settings such as cafeterias where masking cannot take place.

We ask for your courageous leadership as we continue to navigate this season of a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc on our community. We believe that ensuring the health, safety, and education of our students should be our highest prioriy. We urge the school district to follow evidence-based recommendations from experts in the fields of child health and infectious disease who have the best interest of our children in mind. Children have suffered significantly as a result of this pandemic. Every loss of life due to COVID-19 is a tragedy that has significant psychological effects on everyone involved. As healthcare professionals, we stand ready to work with the district to use our most effective tools – universal masking, proactive testing, vaccination, and social distancing – to help give our children the best chance at a safe, healthy, and productive school year.


Sincerely,

51
signatures
46 verified
  1. Madelyn Andre, Retired teacher DCS, Cordova
  2. Gwyn Ray, Retired teacher DCS, Horn Lake
  3. Lauren Chipman, Pediatrician, Memphis Children’s Clinic, Memphis
  4. Mary Benton, Pediatrician, Memphis Children's Clinic
  5. Eddie Hankins, Pediatric Critical Care Clinical Pharmacist, LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, Memphis
  6. Giles W Robinson, Physician, St Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  7. Santhosh A Upadhyaya, Pediatrician, MEMPHIS
  8. Michelle Bowden, MD, Pediatrician, UTHSC/Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Memphis
  9. Diego R Hijano, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  10. Beth Brown, MD, Pediatrician, Memphis Children’s Clinic, Olive Branch, MS
  11. Tarun Aurora, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  12. Jason Yaun, Pediatrician, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Memphis
  13. Jeffrey Lebensburger, Pediatric Hematologist, External Chair SCCRIP, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis
  14. Jamie Flerlage, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, MEMPHIS
  15. Audrey Krasin, Pediatrician, Desoto Children’s Clinic, Southaven
  16. Nuray Metin, Pediatrician, Desoto Children’s Clinic, Hernando
  17. Whitney Sanders, Pediatrician, Memphis
  18. Jacob Vargo, MD, Pediatrician, Memphis Children’s Clinic, Olive Branch
  19. Michael Lacy, M.D., Pediatrician, Memphis Children's Clinic, Southaven
  20. Jami Carver, Pediatrician, Memphis Children's Clinic, SOUTHAVEN
  21. Jessica Hysmith, Pediatrician, Memphis Children's Clinic, Olive Branch
  22. Meghan Sullivan, Physician, Memphis Chidren's Clinic, Germantown
  23. Meghna Dua, Physician, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis
  24. Jeremie Estepp, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  25. Matthew J. Krasin, Physician, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis
  26. Austin Dalgo, Physician, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Memphis
  27. Melissa Azul, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  28. Greg Armstrong, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  29. Aditi Bagchi, physician, MEMPHIS
  30. Tim Folse, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  31. Daniel Green, Physician, Member, St.Jude, Memphis
  32. Michael J McNeil, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  33. Matthew J Ehrhardt, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  34. Christopher Tinkle, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  35. Daniel Mulrooney, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
  36. Seth Karol, MD, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
  37. Melissa Maria Hudson, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  38. Aimee Talleur, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  39. Hiroto Inaba, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  40. Jennifer Hidinger, Pediatrician, MCC, Germantown
  41. Jane S Hankins, Physician, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis
  42. Chris DeRenzo, Physician, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis
  43. Erica Kaye, MD, MPH, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
  44. Amanda Mefford, Physician, Memphis children’s clinic
  45. Matthew Rees, MD, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Southaven
  46. Jessica Gartrell, MD, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Nesbit
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