BY RICHARD SKOLNIK
Last year, Los Alamos Public Schools, like many school districts in the US, faced high levels of absenteeism. As school opens this year, there are a number of health-related measures that LAPS should take to try to keep our children healthy and in school:
Data on absenteeism – The LAPS should collect information on absences in a consistent way across schools. On a periodic basis, LAPS should also audit attendance data to be sure it is as accurate as possible.
Causes of absenteeism – The LAPS should, with the help of an epidemiologist as needed, carry out regular analyses of its data on absenteeism, to determine the causes of such absenteeism.
LAPS data as an early warning system –The NM Department of Health (NMDOH) is unable to provide data on disease transmission locally on COVID or on any other disease that is not legally reportable to NMDOH. The NMDOH is also unable to provide locally appropriate messaging on how to respond to local disease conditions. Unfortunately, we have no local public health authority. Thus, except for wastewater and some hospital admissions data on COVID, we are largely flying blind in trying to prepare for, identify, and respond to a range of diseases that could affect our children and us. In this light, LAPS should inform the community whenever it sees a significant uptick in absences due to illness. This would allow families to take appropriate steps to help keep their children healthy.
Ventilation – The LAPS should ensure that the air purifiers in all classrooms are working, have clean filters, and that each classroom has the recommended number of air exchanges per hour.
Handwashing – This remains a powerful tool to reduce the transmission of a number of infections. LAPS should ensure that students wash their hands before eating and after returning from recess.
In addition, families, encouraged by their health care practitioners, need to promote good health and hygiene practices among their children and ensure that they and their children are vaccinated on schedule, as recommended by CDC.
If we want to keep our children and teachers in school, our children unmasked, and our community healthy, we need to focus quickly on the above steps.
(Richard Skolnik is the former Director for Health, Nutrition, and Population for South Asia at the World Bank. He was a Lecturer in Global Health at The George Washington University and Yale, where he still holds an appointment, and the Executive Director of a Harvard AIDS treatment program for three countries in Africa. Richard is also the Instructor for the Yale/Coursera course Essentials of Global Health and the author of Global Health 101, Fourth Edition.)