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Health & Wellness

Parents are overwhelming pediatricians about school COVID guidance, Erie County health commissioner says

A pediatrician tends to a child and their parent.

Parents seeking COVID-19 tests and doctor’s notes for their children have overwhelmed local pediatricians' offices since the new school year began, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein told the county Legislature Thursday.

Burstein, while providing a COVID update to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said local pediatricians report being inundated with calls from parents wanting a test or doctor’s note so their recently ill child can resume in-person learning.

The county’s school reopening guidance released in August, as well as the subsequent New York State Department of Education guidance, states that a sick child can return to school with a negative COVID test. The county guidance, which as of Sept. 27 defers to the state guidance and no longer has to be followed, stated students can also return to school with a doctor's note confirming their illness is not COVID-19.

“Right now, the message is not getting to the parents … that they don't need to call their doctor for their child to be seen and get a note,” Burstein told legislators. “They just need a negative test.”

Gale Burstein
Tom Dinki
Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, speaks before the county Legislature Sept. 30, 2021.

The county Health Department is asking parents of sick children not to schedule an appointment with their pediatrician in order to get a doctor's note, but instead get a COVID test, and from someone other than their pediatrician, if possible. They held a virtual meeting with school districts Wednesday to relay the message to parents.

The number of calls for COVID tests and doctor’s notes have reportedly taken attention away from pediatricians' other child patients suffering more severe side effects of COVID, or other ailments.

“Sometimes it's hard for them to get to their really sick kids, because they're kind of overwhelmed with all these other calls of people that want a COVID-19 test,” Burstein said.

Last week, there were 378 COVID cases in Erie County schools. Roughly 90% of the positive cases were students, according to Burstein.

Both the county and state's guidance allows vaccinated students who are asymptomatic to remain in class when considered a close contact to a positive case, and continue playing sports even when one teammate tests positive. That's consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, only 56% of county children aged 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Pfizer and BioNtech this week submitted data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get their vaccine authorized for 5- to 11-year-olds.

“So we're hoping we can get more school-aged children immunized and keep more kids in school,” Burstein said.

Corrected: October 1, 2021 at 1:54 PM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect that Erie County's COVID-19 school reopening guidance no longer has to be followed as of Sept. 27. The county defers any school guidance on COVID to the New York State Department of Education.
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