As children head back to city schools, Urban Health Plan is looking to address COVID-19 concerns for families across the South Bronx. The Longwood-based organization has clinics in several area schools, including P.S. 48, P.S. 75, P.S. 161, P.S. 333/335, M.S. 424, and the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School, among others.
Children from Kindergarten through 12th grade returned to public schools citywide for blended learning on Sept. 29.
Dr. Viju Jacob, medical director for Urban Health Plan’s school-based health programs, is trying to ensure that the clinics are prepared for the challenges of the school year during the pandemic.
“Some of our schools have additional school nurses that will man the isolation space, because they’re bigger campuses, and some of the schools we will serve as the person who assesses the people in the isolation space,” said Jacob.
However, he wants to prioritize students who missed their routine check-ups and immunizations during quarantine.
“Our goal is that once the students are back in the building, is to kind of catch them up on any missed immunizations and get them ready for flu season with the flu immunization,” he added.
During the height of the pandemic, the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the vaccination rate decreased to 96 percent for children over the age of two in New York City. City policy requires that children receive immunizations, like the polio vaccination, before they can attend public school in the city.
Dr. Acklema Mohammad, head of pediatrics at Urban Health Plan, advises parents to make sure their child receives any immunizations they may have missed.
“These are illnesses that we have under control, that we see we have prevented. We don’t have polio, measles and mumps and chickenpox as much,” said Mohammad. “Because of the vaccinations that were missed, we’re afraid that these illnesses will go up.”
According to the New York State Department of Health, missing a routine immunizations can compromise a child’s immune system, raising the child’s risk of catching a disease, including COVID-19.
Mohammad said COVID-19 and other diseases, such as the flu, carry similar symptoms in children which can make it hard to diagnose children at first glance.
“When you try to separate these two groups of people, the ones with symptoms that may be Coronavirus and those who may just be a regular cough and cold or a regular coxsackievirus or a regular vomiting and diarrhea virus is difficult,” she said.
Children who begin to show symptoms, such as a fever greater than 100, coughing, respiratory discomfort and loss of smell or taste, are taken to an isolation room until a parent can pick them up or the child to be taken to go to the emergency room. Additional nurses have been hired to assist in the schools’ isolation areas.