Expert Advisory Panel 4 discusses student mental health and four day in-person model

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GRAPHIC BY ARYN LEE

Expert Advisory Panel 4 discussed the logistics and metrics to consider for the optional four day cohort and students’ mental health

Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics convened via Zoom on March 12 at 3 p.m. to discuss students’ mental health and details regarding elementary schools approaching their start of four-day in-person learning plan.

Elisabetta Del Re, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in psychiatry and mental health, gave a presentation regarding the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the mental health of teens and younger children, and the necessity for the return of consistent in-person learning.

The presentation provided information about how to lessen stress on children from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the increasing mental health-related emergency room visits in the past year. Del Re said the pandemic was also increasing many of the inequities already present in Brookline.

“The isolation and the sudden lack of social support, along with the inability to go to the emergency room for many people that don’t have healthcare has exacerbated a lot of mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, PTSD, paranoia and psychosis,” Del Re said.

Del Re said the lack of in-person schooling and challenges of remote learning can prevent teens from social development and having space from their family, all of which can be attributed to the increase of mental health crises.

“The greatest impact on kids has been school closure. This has been affecting teens more than young kids. The reason is that teens are in a stage of their life when they consciously or unconsciously try to separate from their family,” Del Re said. “Now they find themselves without school without social interaction and stuck at home with their parents from whom they physiologically and physically separate which is causing a mental health crisis.”

Del Re ended her presentation by emphasizing that proper support in the form of counselors, social workers and nurses is crucial for when students return to school full-time.

The meeting then shifted to logistics concerning masks once grade-schoolers return. Medical Director at MassHealth and pulmonary and critical care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, Lakshman Swamy said that filtration quality in a mask is less important than the fit.

Swamy said that to properly fit a KN-95 mask is a long process and it makes more sense to instead wear a properly fitted mask

The panel also went over the protocol regarding lunch and snack times and turn and talk group work for students.

The panel was unable to come to a final decision because the best possible option was unclear.

“It’s not easy to say what is better: 3 feet inside with a droplet barrier or 3 feet outside with great ventilation,” Swamy said.

Director of Operations for Public Schools of Brookline Matt Gillis said that whenever mask breaks occurred they needed to be in short limited periods of time.

“If the distance between students is going to be less than 6 feet and people are eating it should be for fifteen minutes or less,” Gillis said.

The panel looked at three options regarding policies about partner work and the best seating positions. Swamy said distance is the most important factor in choosing the three options.

“When you’re wearing a mask the best filtration and protection is in front of you. It is ok if people are facing each other, the distance is more important,” Swamy said.

While there was not a definitive choice, the consensus of the panel seemed to favor options 2B and 2C which were more distanced and less straight-on contact than 2A.