As Wildcat Nation prepares to return to in-person learning, many students and parents have questions concerning COVID-19 and the vaccine. UHS News spoke with Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren about returning to school while the virus is still lurking in our community.
Dr. Coren spoke to the risks of returning to school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic saying: “When you go back to school you are mingling with people from many different households/many more people than when schooling was nearly all “distance”. Activities such as sitting or standing too close, flirting, kissing, sharing stuff, passing in the hall, eating together, can all transmit the virus, Dr. Coren explained. He said that Wildcats will have to “adapt to a whole new lifestyle ( like social distancing, masking). It’s going to be difficult to learn those things in a new environment. The school has tried to make it easier with signs and smaller classes– but those are going to seem like a pain.”
As vaccines become available to the community, Dr. Coren reminded UHS News that no one is required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. That being said, Dr. Coren strongly advises “high school age people to get the vaccine because they are susceptible to the virus and can pass it on to others who may be more vulnerable (teachers, parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends who may be susceptible, etc.)” Dr. Coren assured that, “Teens are less susceptible themselves to the worst consequences of Covid– BUT they certainly can get it “bad” wind up in the hospital or die.”
According to Dr. Coren, teenagers are more prone to long-term symptoms associated with the virus: “Even if it doesn’t cause severe illness there are “post covid” or long-term symptoms. In this regard, teens are different from kids in 3rd grade or less, who are significantly less likely to suffer from the illness.”
Wildcats might be wondering what they can do to maximize their protection from COVID-19 while in school. Dr. Coren advises to “wear your masks, keep 6 feet apart (even on the school bus or in the car), keep the windows open for increased ventilation, avoid congregating/gathering and eating together. when you eat, take your mask off and try to avoid conversation at that time.”
Regarding athletics and extracurriculars, Dr. Coren said, “In sports where you can take off your mask try to maintain safe distances. Wash hands for 20 seconds, or use a sanitizer often. Avoid after-school gatherings. In music class, you’ll have to avoid wind instruments and singing ( that’s hard!!).”
With all the talk of large crowds and congregate settings, UHS News wondered if it would be best if Wildcats work to keep their friendship circles small as they return to school. Dr. Coren said, “Yes, try to keep your friendship circle small. If one friend comes in with COVID (and NO SYMPTOMS) the whole group is fair game. Keep the groups smaller and the virus won’t take down as many.”
Dr. Coren challenged Wildcats to both protect their family and friends from the virus and make sure their loved ones are staying mentally fit: “Don’t let your friends get depressed, stressed. Many got really disconnected ( and still are) during this pandemic. Reach out to maintain connections figuratively). Be Friendly. but observe the rules — to help each other.”