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COVID-19, asthma, and return to school | #covid19 | #kids | #childern | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


Social distancing and lockdown measures have included the suspension of children and young people’s education for several weeks to months. Although the precise educational and societal effects of closing schools are unknown, they are likely to be substantial and will almost certainly have exacerbated inequalities. In countries in which society is reconfiguring to a new normal, the priority must be preparing for reopening schools because of the potential lifelong impact on children and young people. However, with this return to school rapidly approaching, there should be particular considerations regarding children and young people with asthma.

There is an annual seasonal autumnal spike in asthma attacks in children and young people (the so-called September epidemic) due to colder weather, common viral infections, aeroallergen exposure, and reduced asthma medication compliance.

1

Understanding the September asthma epidemic.

It is unclear where various countries will be with respect to ongoing community spread of COVID-19 in the autumn, but we anticipate constraints in ongoing health-care resource allocation in many parts of the world; for example, prioritisation of respiratory care in people with moderate to severe asthma, including limitation of exposure to aerosol generating procedures such as spirometry.

2

  • Searing DA
  • Dutmer CM
  • Fleischer DM
  • et al.

A Phased Approach to Resuming Suspended Allergy/Immunology Clinical Services.

These constraints might reduce access and follow up for children and young people with milder asthma, who are at high risk of asthma exacerbations and emergency department visits. However, as stay at home orders have had a substantial impact on children and young people, including decreased vaccination rates, delayed management of health conditions, prolonged exposure to indoor home air pollutants, and impacts on mental health, it is possible that in some children and young people a return to school might improve overall asthma control.

3

SickKids
COVID-19: Recommendations for School Reopening.

It is important to reassure families that severe COVID-19 infection is rare in children and young people, irrespective of underlying asthma.

4

  • Bhopal S
  • Bagaria J
  • Bhopal R

Children’s mortality from COVID-19 compared with all-deaths and other relevant causes of death: epidemiological information for decision-making by parents, teachers, clinicians and policymakers.

Despite this, children and young people with asthma might be at high risk of missing out on education when schools reopen. Asthma can be confused with COVID-19 respiratory symptoms,

5

  • Abrams EM
  • ‘t Jong GW
  • Yang CL

and children and young people with cough and wheeze at school are at greater risk of being sent home. To minimise this disruption, rapid testing services, which are likely to be stretched, should be prioritised for children and young people wherever possible. Primary, secondary, and tertiary care services can also mitigate this problem by adhering to evidence-based approaches to childhood asthma. In particular, a focus on asthma control, risk stratification, and medication adherence will be essential, including ongoing review of inhaler technique and a personalised written asthma action plan, whether in-person or virtually.

5

  • Abrams EM
  • ‘t Jong GW
  • Yang CL

Prioritising less (or no) short-acting bronchodilator use, as recommended in the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) 2019 and 2020 strategy, and clear stepwise action plans might improve asthma control and management among people with mild asthma. An ongoing cycle of assess, adjust, and review, as recommended in the GINA guideline, is essential because a return to school this year might impact asthma in ways that are unpredictable at present. An appreciation of the effect of social determinants of health among families of children and young people with asthma, whether this be housing quality, adequately heated and ventilated homes, access to transportation, poverty, health literacy, access to medications, or access to health care,

6

  • Federico MJ
  • McFarlane 2nd, AE
  • Szefler SJ
  • Abrams EM

The impact of social determinants of health on children with asthma.

will be important, since economic depression is anticipated to worsen.

7

  • Sinha I
  • Bennett D
  • Taylor-Robinson DC

Children are being sidelined by covid-19.

Broad access to influenza vaccination will be an important public health strategy to further decrease risk, and particular effort must be made to educate families about the benefits of vaccinating children and young people with asthma.

Little guidance exists on how to transition children and young people with asthma back to school and how to counsel their caregivers on mediation of risk. Although returning to school is of utmost importance for education and social development, mental health, and mitigation of food insecurity,

8

  • Sinha IP
  • Lee AR
  • Bennett D
  • McGeehan L
  • et al.

Child poverty, food insecurity, and respiratory health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ensuring that those with asthma return to school safely will require diligence and ongoing monitoring. In addition to the broader public health recommendations (screening, physical distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene), specific recommendations might be especially salient for families of children and young people with asthma. For example, regular environmental cleaning is recommended to reduce the presence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 on surfaces in schools,

3

SickKids
COVID-19: Recommendations for School Reopening.

but various household cleaning products have been associated with an increased risk of asthma and wheeze across all age groups.

9

Cleaning products and asthma risk: a potentially important public health concern.

Consequently, cleaning products used in schools should be free of organic compounds, irritants, or fragrances.

9

Cleaning products and asthma risk: a potentially important public health concern.

Improving classroom ventilation will be important overall,

3

SickKids
COVID-19: Recommendations for School Reopening.

but there is a fine balance between opening windows and maintaining thermal comfort, and care must be taken to reduce exposure to outdoor seasonal aeroallergens, such as mould or pollens, in children and young people with atopic asthma.

Although large-scale studies are scarce, available data indicate that indoor air quality in schools is often poor, with pollutant concentrations frequently exceeding EU and WHO guideline values.

10

  • Annesi-Maesano I
  • Baiz N
  • Banerjee S
  • Rudnai P
  • Rive S
  • Group S

Indoor air quality and sources in schools and related health effects.

Indoor air quality monitors that measure carbon dioxide and humidity might be useful adjuncts. Schools could use strategies to reduce traffic pollution, including anti-idling policies at drop-off and pick-up times for those driving cars, encourage as many students as possible to arrive on foot or by bicycle, and arranging deliveries outside school hours.

Those who work in health, school, and government should be mindful and considerate of the concerns of children with asthma and their parents. Urgent guidance, incorporating views of various stakeholders, including children and young people, is required to prepare families, physicians, and schools for reopening in the autumn. Formal health need assessments, weighing up the risks and benefits of school attendance for children with asthma, are required to properly inform such guidance moving forward. Involving schools in ongoing recognition of asthma symptoms will be essential. In the interim, focusing on asthma control and mediation of risk might allow children and young people with asthma—and all children—to return to school safely.

EMA is a collaborator with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is on the National Advisory Board for Food Allergy Canada, has received moderator fees from Novartis, and is on the National Food Allergy Action Plan Action Steering Team for Food Allergy Canada. IS and RMF are co-last authors. EMA reports moderator fees from Novartis, outside of the submitted work, and is a collaborator with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is on the National Advisory Board for Food Allergy Canada, and is on the National Food Allergy Action Plan Action Steering Team for Food Allergy Canada. All other authors declare no competing interests.

References

  1. 1.

    Understanding the September asthma epidemic.

    J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007; 120: 526-529

  2. 2.
    • Searing DA
    • Dutmer CM
    • Fleischer DM
    • et al.

    A Phased Approach to Resuming Suspended Allergy/Immunology Clinical Services.

    J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2020; 8: 2125-2134

  3. 3.

    COVID-19: Recommendations for School Reopening.

  4. 4.
    • Bhopal S
    • Bagaria J
    • Bhopal R

    Children’s mortality from COVID-19 compared with all-deaths and other relevant causes of death: epidemiological information for decision-making by parents, teachers, clinicians and policymakers.

    Public Health. 2020; ()

  5. 5.
    • Abrams EM
    • ‘t Jong GW
    • Yang CL

    Asthma and COVID-19.

    CMAJ. 2020; 192: E551

  6. 6.
    • Federico MJ
    • McFarlane 2nd, AE
    • Szefler SJ
    • Abrams EM

    The impact of social determinants of health on children with asthma.

    J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2020; 8: 1808-1814

  7. 7.
    • Sinha I
    • Bennett D
    • Taylor-Robinson DC

    Children are being sidelined by covid-19.

    BMJ. 2020; 369m2061

  8. 8.
    • Sinha IP
    • Lee AR
    • Bennett D
    • McGeehan L
    • et al.

    Child poverty, food insecurity, and respiratory health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Lancet Respir Med. 2020; ()

  9. 9.

    Cleaning products and asthma risk: a potentially important public health concern.

    CMAJ. 2020; 192: E164-E165

  10. 10.
    • Annesi-Maesano I
    • Baiz N
    • Banerjee S
    • Rudnai P
    • Rive S
    • Group S

    Indoor air quality and sources in schools and related health effects.

    J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2013; 16: 491-550



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