Parents question school protocols regarding common children’s ailments overlapping with COVID symptoms

As most students in the D.C. region return to in-person learning, many parents are wondering how will schools handle the usual sniffles, colds and allergies in COVID-19 times? 

Some parents in Frederick County, where about 56 percent of kids have returned to in-person learning, have been sounding off that they are already getting calls from their child’s school to come pick them up and get them tested. 

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FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan spoke with some of these parents, who argue that not every common ailment should be deemed as related to COVID.

"Rather than monitoring the situation, they’re just going to go straight to COVID and get them out of here," said Jennifer Meyers, a parent of two students in Frederick County Public Schools.

Meyers explained that on Thursday she received a late-afternoon call from her daughter’s school telling her that she had complained of a headache and a stomach ache and that she had to be picked up.

Meyers said the school told her that her daughter needs to have a negative COVID-19 test or a doctor’s note, which explains that the symptoms were the cause of some sort of other illness. 

Not only that, the mom said that because her son also attends the same school, he too won’t be allowed to go back to the school until she provides official medical documentation because he’s in the same household.

"What is their plan to determine when something is just regular, seasonal allergies or changing of weather?" Meyers asked. "We have a lot of changing weather, we have a lot of fluctuations between hot and cold here that can cause headaches that can cause things like that to happen. So how are they going to move forward in determining what is everyday aches and pains; just being normal people in an environment versus what is COVID?"

FCPS Communications Manager Brandon Oland said that FCPS is following the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland State Department of Education’s Decision Aid.

Oland said he cannot speak on specific instances where parents have been called to pick up students.

"Not every tiny symptom in the world is going to be something that’s going to get a student sent home," Oland explained. "But there are specific symptoms that we know that are out there with COVID."

The Decision Aid is a public document that includes the following:

1. COVID-like-Illness is defined as: Any 1 of the following: cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell; OR At least 2 of the following: fever of 100.4 or higher (measured of subjective), chills or shaking chills, muscle aches, sore throat, headache, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and congestion or runny nose.

2. "Person (child, care provider, educator, other staff) with 1 new symptom not meeting the definition of COVID-19-like illness: Exclude person and allow return when symptoms have improved, no fever for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication, AND criteria in the Communicable Disease Summary have been met as applicable. If person develops symptoms of COVID-19-like-illness, follow processes for person with COVID-19-like-illness.

3. "Person (child, care provider, educator, other staff) with COVID-19-like-illness: Exclude person and recommend that they talk to their health care provider about testing for COVID-19 or whether there is another specific diagnosis (e.g. influenza, strep throat, otitis) or a pre-existing condition that explains symptoms. The ill person should isolate pending test results or evaluation by their health care provider.

Ayesha also spoke with Dr. Joe McDonald, who is an internist based in Rockville. He suggests assessing your child’s health at home as best as possible before sending them off to school, in order to avoid getting that call.

"Keep your kids hydrated that’s really important," McDonald said. "Have them eat in regular intervals all the stuff they are supposed to eat, make sure they get plenty of sleep all the things that should help your immune system be where it should be."

Ayesha checked in with several other school districts regarding their procedures and protocols for when a child shows symptoms that may overlap that of COVID. 

In a statement from Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala:

"If a student is displaying COVID-like symptoms, they will be assessed in the school’s triage room by the School Health Services professional. The SHS professional will evaluate and determine if the student needs to be picked up from school and if they recommend the student be tested for COVID.

MCPS is sending thermometers home to every family for daily temperature checks prior to entering the bus/building. Students and staff are also asked to complete a weekly attestation form."

In a statement, Wayde Byard with Loudoun County Public County Schools explained:

"Our procedures regarding "routine" illnesses have not changed.

Here is how we make the distinction between routine illnesses and suspected cases of COVID-19:

Each LCPS school will have a Care Room that is separate from the Health Office.

The Care Room will be used only for students and staff exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. 

The Health Office will support students needing medication, first aid or who are having scheduled visits.

The Care Room will be staffed by a trained, full-time LCPS substitute or a contracted vendor. 

The school nurse or health clinic specialist will supervise the Health Office and support the health monitor in the Care Room.

Parents/guardians will be requested to come to school to pick up their student if they are taken to the Care Room. The student will not be permitted to ride the bus home."

Lucy Caldwell with Fairfax County Public Schools also sent a statement saying:

"Due to COVID-19 in the community, evaluation by a healthcare provider is recommended for all sick children.

Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD), in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), has developed Sick Student Notification and Permission to Return to School/Child Care forms to be used when a student is:

Sent home due to COVID Like Illness (CLI)

Remains home from in-person instruction due to COVID Like Illness (CLI)

Reports a positive COVID-19 test

Is instructed to quarantine by a medical provider or the FCHD

The Permission to Return to School/Child form must be completed prior to the student’s return to in-person instruction."

Ayesha also reached out to the Society for Human Resource Management asking them if a similar concept should be applied at places of work.

In a statement from Lisa Frydenlund, HR Knowledge Advisor at SHRM we were told:

"Approximately one year ago, these types of questions were being asked as we were learning more about COVID-19 and it feels like we have now come full circle.  Employers and HR should err on the side of caution and communicate any new workplace protocols or procedures to employees. Employers will want to do continue doing their due diligence to ensure their workers and workplaces stay safe and healthy."