COVID-19: Are Learning Pods Safe for Your Children?
If you haven't heard of a pandemic learning pod, chances are you don't have school-age children. Parents of school-age kids have been debating and discussing pods since school supplies started showing up on store shelves.
For those not in the know, learning pods are teacher- or tutor-led small groups of kids who are learning together rather than virtually. Some families are partnering with other neighbors to form pods and hire a teacher. Others are signing up with pod placement groups. Some parents are using pods as an after-school addition to their online schooling. Others are replacing online schooling with full-time pods.
Much of the pod discussion has been around costs, but pod safety is another important issue. The Newsroom spoke with three Cedars-Sinai pediatricians about pod safety concerns and all agree that the key to health and safety is setting firm guidelines before forming or joining a pod.
Cedars-Sinai pediatric infectious disease specialist Priya Soni, MD, says it's important to make sure the parents involved are not immunosuppressed or have underlying medical conditions. Soni says other decisions should govern participation, including:
- Whether socializing outside of the pod families is allowed. If allowed, what types of socializing are permittable for all members of the pod?
- What to do if a participant gets sick. Some pods require children to be tested for COVID-19 if they develop a slight fever or mild congestion.
- How families with multiple children should interact. Should one family be allowed to have siblings in different pods?
We pediatricians recognize the importance of socialization for children, especially as the pandemic quarantine enters its sixth month. However, it's crucial to remember that pods are only as safe as every single household contact of every member of the pod.
Nicole Herzog, MD, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Group pediatrician, suggests pods develop rules for bathroom use as well. If the pod is meeting in a home, try to have a bathroom dedicated to the pod and not the family. Ideally, someone should clean the bathroom after each usage. And Herzog recommends that parents teach their children to close the toilet lid before flushing to avoid the microscopic spray that can come out of a toilet when flushed..
Karina Eastman, MD, also a pediatrician with Cedars-Sinai Medical Group, says pod host families should remember to disinfect surfaces stringently when there are several people sharing the same space. It is also important to encourage hand hygiene and to come up with a plan for outdoor eating.
Other rules to follow:
- Children and teachers should be masked.
- Children and teachers should be screened daily for symptoms of COVID-19.
- Children should follow social distancing guidelines.
"We pediatricians recognize the importance of socialization for children, especially as the pandemic quarantine enters its sixth month," says Herzog. "However, it's crucial to remember that pods are only as safe as every single household contact of every member of the pod."
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Five Tips for a Safe Back-to-School During COVID-19