Infectious disease doctor worried about students returning to classrooms

Dr. Mohammed Reza says he will not be sending his children back to on-campus learning this year


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Whether it’s in-person or online learning, students in Baker, Bradford, Charlton and Pierce counties will begin the 2020-21 school year on Monday.

Dr. Mohammed Reza, an infectious disease specialist in Northeast Florida, told News4Jax he’s worried about students returning to classrooms for the start of this school year.

“It is concerning to open back up and have that close interaction happen again,” Reza said. “(There are) 338,000 children in the U.S. that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 infection. This represents about 8% of the nearly 5 million cases in the United States.”

Reza has first-hand experience treating patients with COVID-19. He said although the rate of severe outcomes is a lot less in children than in adults, children can still be affected.

“Children have 10 to 100 times more virus in their nasal and in their pharynx than adults, so even they don’t have the receptors, their immune system isn’t as developed as adults to take this virus and cause them to have severe symptoms,” Reza said. “They may be very efficient transmitters of this virus, so my concern is these children have no symptoms — fantastic — but they will be coming back home to older parents and grandparents and they can possibly infect other members of the family.”

Reza said he is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in school settings, knowing the anatomy of classrooms and school buses.

“I spoke up at a school board meeting and since then I have had 10 teachers reach out to me and have said, ‘Dr. Reza, I am scheduled to work in a trailer with 25 kids in it in the middle of the summer in Florida with no windows, no ventilation other than the AC, so how do you expect me to social distance with 25 children in a trailer?’ And these are teachers with underlying medical conditions that could put them at a higher risk from contracting the virus,” Reza said. “The more we learn about it, we see how infectious this virus is. This is probably one of the most infectious diseases we have out there next to measles.”

Reza offered advice to parents and students preparing for the new school year.

“Keep that social distance as much as you can. Wear a well-fitted mask — that’s not just a single layer cloth, but multiple layers of cloth — and keep it on all times,” he said. “I would recommend that hygiene for everybody that’s going back and coming back to school together. (Changing and showering when returning home from school or work) is something that’s recommended for sure. It’s all about keeping that hygiene up and decreasing virus particles that you might have on your hands or clothes and exposing it to other people in your family.”

As an infectious disease physician and a father, Reza will not be sending his children back to on-campus learning this year.

“We don’t know the long-term effects of this virus on our children. That’s another thing. I don’t want to play Russian roulette with my children’s lives,” he said.

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