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360: With confusing symptoms, how do you know if it's safe to send your child to school?

Kids and adults could be taking more sick days
students wearing masks in class
Posted at 10:16 AM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 12:16:24-04

As the school year gets underway in Colorado, everyone is watching and waiting to see if schools will see COVID-19 outbreaks. But another question is what will happen as kids spread other germs, leading to other illnesses that may easily be confused with COVID-19.

In this environment, it would seem even a minor cold virus could lead to regular disruptions of in-person learning.

Denver7 is taking a 360 look, talking to parents, public health officials and pediatricians about how to decide when it’s safe to send a child to school.

Is it COVID-19 or a cold?

Children’s Hospital Pediatric Pulmonologist Monica Federico understands why this could be difficult for parents.

“It's normal for kids who go to preschool and little kids who go to kindergarten to get up to 12 to 14 illnesses in a year, so you may very well feel like your child is always sick,” Federico said.

Federico pointed out that those illnesses could be confused with COVID-19. Doctors say the delta variant in particular is leading to symptoms like runny nose, sore throat and headache.

Dr. John Douglas, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department, added that the poor air quality from wildfires has people waking up with sore throats and stuffy noses.

“I think the challenge is going to be in the gray area,” Douglas said.

Both Douglas and Federico said the simple answer is if your child is sick, keep them home. Watch for symptoms that seem new or different than usual. There are also certain symptoms, like fever, that require a child to be kept home.

Kids could lose learning time

As districts try to keep kids in person as much as possible this school year, Jennifer Manis of Highlands Ranch worries about her sons being out of school for several days if it turns out all they have is a cold.

“(The school) is not planning on doing any kind of simultaneous virtual learning, so how do you make sure that your child isn’t falling behind,” Manis said.

Districts including Douglas County, Adams 12, and Cherry Creek told Denver7 students who are home sick or quarantined will be given assignments and opportunities to learn, but it’s not clear how rigorous that learning will be.

Challenge for working parents

Fortunately for Manis, her three boys are old enough to stay home alone if they do get sick. But parents with younger children may want to have a babysitter on standby.

Kristina Sells Bevard started There There Backup Care to help parents in a pinch.

“We're here for any kind of last-minute care. We also can help for a couple of weeks at a time here and there if that's what you need,” Bevard said.

Bevard has a network of nannies throughout the metro area, and all are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The company screens potential clients for possible COVID-19 exposure, but may still be able to care for a child who’s slightly sick.

“If it's an iffy situation, we just pass on all that information to the nanny and let her decide,” Bevard said.

Employers should be prepared

Bevard hopes employers will understand the challenges their employees with children are facing this school year. Workers may need to call out sick more frequently if their child is home with a cold, or quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure.

Pediatrician Sonal Patel said she hopes the pandemic has taught us that it’s OK for both adults and kids to take a sick day when their bodies need it.

“There’s a role of us in the community to say, 'You're sick. I’m not going to put the pressure on you. I'm going to let your body heal, and then we’ll go back to school or back to work,'” Patel said.

Ultimately, Manis said she understands the need to protect other school kids and adults in the community by keeping her children home if they’re not fully healthy.

“I’d rather them err on the side of caution then have my child be the super spreader at the school,” Manis said.

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.