Return to Classroom in Age of COVID-19 Poses Unique Risk to Children With Food Allergies

Parents of children with food allergies are concerned about exposure if students eat lunch in their classrooms due to coronavirus protocols

NBC Universal, Inc.

As Massachusetts school districts continue to adjust their back-to-school plans for fall, some parents and health professionals want to make sure schools considering in-person classes don't forget to update their protocols for dealing with food allergies.

Eight-year-old Noah Gjarta of Worcester is like many kids with serious food allergies, whose parents have taken comfort in having a plan in place with his school to protect him from exposure, including a peanut-free table for lunch.

"It's really given us a lot of comfort in having that routine," said his mother, Gerta Gjarta.

But as many parents of children with allergies are quickly realizing, that routine is being upended because of significant changes in school due to COVID-19.

"We're very concerned about COVID, obviously, but we're also really concerned about her and the kids eating in the classroom and how that will be managed given the age and how messy kids are," said Emile Baker of Boston.

Baker says her second-grade daughter, Sophie, has had seven anaphylactic reactions and is even touch-reactive to the residue of eggs, milk, peanuts and tree nuts.

"It's just going to be incredibly hard for the kids not to stand up and have all the crumbs go on the floor, have the children touch the walls and various things on their way to wash their hands, and if my daughter touches those things and touches her eyes, nose or mouth, she could have a bad reaction," said Baker.

And both moms say they're concerned the first signs of an allergic reaction could be missed with their children wearing masks.

"Being able to see that initial flare-up around the lips, with the hives showing up first, before all his other symptoms get worse, I think it can make a huge difference on how you can prevent and then treat the reaction," Gjarta said.

Dr. Michael Pistiner is the director of food allergy advocacy, education and prevention in the Food Allergy Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. He said all school districts should be revisiting their allergy protocols and training due to the COVID-related changes to the school day.

"Hand-sanitizing gels are effective for something like coronavirus, but hand-sanitizing gels alone aren't something that would actually take allergen off," Pistiner said.

He also wants parents whose children have allergies to take some comfort in the fact that sanitizing should be a top priority at all schools right now.

"The cleaning that is going to go into decreasing the chance of viral infection is also going to be helpful, potentially, for students with food allergies," Pistiner said.

The doctor says frequent hand-washing with soap and water will be essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allergens.

Contact Us