What you need to know about students with asthma and COVID-19

5 actions to take to help keep students with asthma safe and comfortable, including how to address instances of a student who experiences breathing difficulties while in school
By: | August 7, 2020
Photo by gryffyn m on UnsplashPhoto by gryffyn m on Unsplash

Students with asthma do not need to be super worried about COVID-19, according to Andrew MacGinnitie, clinical director of the Division of Immunology at Boston Children’s Hospital. The data suggest that asthma is not a significant risk factor for the novel coronavirus in children.

However, schools should still take steps to keep students with asthma safe when schools reopen. Here are five actions to consider:

  1. Continue physical distancing. Distancing measures taken so far have had the beneficial side effect of decreasing the transmittal of other viruses, MacGinnitie says. Because of this, hospitals have seen a dramatic drop in the number of patients with asthma. While the number of hospitalizations due to asthma usually increases when school starts in the fall, this may also be attenuated because of the control measures people have taken, he adds.
  2. Develop protocol for face coverings. Face masks are safe for students with asthma, MacGinnitie says. There’s a common misconception that masks decrease the amount of oxygen, but “that’s not true and they should be fine. A diagnosis of asthma does not preclude someone from using a face mask, although if someone is already having trouble breathing, a mask could make it more difficult,” says Tania Elliott, a national spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. So schools should have a protocol or process in place for students with asthma who are complaining of any breathing difficulty, Elliott says. For example, the student should be able to remove the mask, but he must be at least 6 feet away from other people while not wearing it.
  3. Opt for inhalers. While some students with asthma get their medication via nebulizer, it is currently recommended that they use metered-dose inhalers instead, MacGinnitie says. This is because nebulizers help generate aerosols. Doctors should typically have no problem ordering inhalers for patients. If a student is sick enough that he needs to use a nebulizer, then he probably needs to be at home, MacGinnitie adds.
  4.  Restart medication. A lot of students stop taking controlled asthma medications during their summer break, MacGinnitie says. “We were not for that this year.” For parents who may have made that choice, school nurses can advise they restart giving the medication two weeks before school begins so that the person’s lungs are as controlled as possible, he says.
  5. Be prepared. Have an action plan on file with the school nursing office for each student with asthma, Elliott advises. Ensure that any prescribed medications are well stocked and have a rescue inhaler available in the event of an asthma attack.

 Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals and transportation for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.