Mighty Blog

Back to school concerns: COVID-19 and asthma

The COVID-19 pandemic is making back to school challenging for families. Parents are worried about the spread of the disease, if school is safe and much more. If your child has asthma, you might have extra concerns about going back to school.

The recommendation for the administration of asthma medication has changed during the pandemic so, we talked with Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, which has one of the top pulmonology programs in the country according to U.S. News and World Report.

Is it safe for kids with asthma to be in a school setting?

Asthma is a health condition that may cause increased risks with a respiratory illness like COVID-19. “But for kids, they have had less of a respiratory component when experiencing COVID-19 and we have not seen significant differences in COVID-19 outcomes for kids with asthma,” said Dr. Chawla.

Some school districts may bring their students back to school and some may stick to distance-learning. However, it is required all districts provide a distance-learning option so, parents ultimately have the choice whether in-person or distance-learning is right for their child.

During the pandemic, it’s even more important to make sure a child’s asthma is well controlled. That means avoiding triggers like smoking, vaping, allergy triggers, illnesses and stress.

What is the new recommendation for administering asthma medication for kids?

“At Children’s Minnesota, we recommend families with kids with asthma use inhalers with a spacer instead of a nebulizer,” said Dr. Chawla. The reasoning behind this is: If someone who has COVID-19 uses a nebulizer, it may increase the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the air. A large percentage of COVID-19 cases in kids are asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, so they could unintentionally be spreading the virus to others during these breathing treatments.

What does this have to do with back to school?

The importance of this change is that school personnel and others who care for kids with asthma who use nebulizers should think about the personalized protective equipment (PPE) they use to keep themselves safe, when kids cannot be changed to inhalers.

Back-to-school time is a good time to review a child’s asthma control and management plan with their provider. “It’s important that parents do not delay care because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Chawla said. “We are taking extra precautions [at Children’s Minnesota] to keep our patients and health care workers protected.”

Do face masks make it hard for kids with asthma to breathe?

Wearing masks in public is critical to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s why there’s a mask mandate. Nearly all school-age children, including those with asthma, can and should wear masks in school.

Can I get a mask exemption for my child?

There are very few exceptions for people who don’t need to wear a mask according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as children under the age of 2 and children who have trouble breathing. But, overall the vast majority of kids can safely wear a mask. The key is finding the one that fits them best. Learn more: How to make masks more comfortable for kids.

Providers and nurses at Children’s Minnesota will not be giving mask exemptions unless their situation requires it.

What do I do if my child has an asthma attack or emergency?

Asthma attacks can be managed the same way as usual, even during the pandemic. If a child is having asthma-related difficulties, parents should seek immediate medical care. Our 12 pediatric primary care clinics and emergency rooms are available to help.

Children’s Minnesota emergency department

Children’s Minnesota is open and safe to care for kids. We have two pediatric emergency departments designed especially for infants, children and young adults:

  • Minneapolis: The UnitedHealthcare® Pediatric Emergency Department
  • St. Paul:  Peter J. King Pediatric Emergency Department
Alexandra Rothstein