Letter to the Editor: School District’s Failure to Lead
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Category: Health
This letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Irin Israel
There is a real cost and impact to our children not going to school. Peer school districts have moved mountains and left no stone unturned and have been able to provide their children with substantially more live learning – either in-person or via live streaming. They accomplished this weeks ago and adhered to NYS health and safety guidelines.
“But this type of planning, ingenuity, and initiative makes plain an essential determinant for why certain districts, with the necessary resources, have full-time in-person schooling: the will of the leader.” (NY Magazine, 10/19/20, David Zweig)
Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and the current Board have become a unit of naysayers rather than striving for solutions to get our children as many live/synchronous hours of education as possible. It appears they are looking to put unnecessary roadblocks in front of every idea, and they often refuse to explain their reasoning, even though they claim that getting the children back to school is a priority.
There is a reasonableness standard, which can be assessed the NYS Department of Health’s definition of safe practices and what other communities are doing successfully. No superintendent, board member, administrator, teacher, union, parent, or anyone else in the community should have the right or ability to deny our children education based on the belief that their opinion on safety supersedes that of our NYS experts.
We owe it to our children to deliver the best education possible as long as it can be delivered in the safe manner prescribed by our own experts at the NYS Department of Health.
Examples of the Board/Administration’s shortcomings:
-When the use of physical barriers was suggested to achieve social distancing, the Board relied upon the wrong restart guidelines. According to the proper NYS health and safety guidelines, barriers may be safely used for social distancing and do not require 6-foot distancing as well. This can be used with masks and cohorts. This method is being used safely by peer schools to enable more students to be in-person, yet the Board has not allowed for this analysis.
-When cameras were suggested for live streaming, the Board declared that it was not possible. When asked why, they explained that it was complicated. They have finally attempted some live streaming, but it has been rolled out in a haphazard manner that does not lay the foundation for success.
-When tents were suggested prior to the school year, the Board declared that it was insurmountable. Now, the warm weather has passed.
-When trailers were suggested, the Board declared that there was a six-month approval process. They have still not put in for approval.
Somehow other competent school districts have been to achieve all of the above – successfully and safely. No one is saying the solutions are simple, easy or perfect. But why are these options not being seriously examined and the obstacles they present being tackled? Our District is lacking the planning, ingenuity and initiative that other districts have shown.
Please attend the BOE Meeting: Monday 11/2 6:30pm SHS
Why You Should Get a Flu Shot
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Category: Health
Board certified internist at the Scarsdale Medical Group Dr. Michael Finkelstein tells us why it’s important to get the flu shot:
Why is it important to get the flu vaccine this year?
In general, it’s important to get a flu shot every year because even if the flu strain isn’t 100% covered by the vaccine, it still offers you protection and can lessen symptoms. This year, it’s even more important to get vaccinated because we also have the COVID virus out there. If everyone in your family won’t get vaccinated, it’s important to make sure at least one adult family member does so that someone will be able to care for family members who may get sick. There are no true medical contraindications for the flu vaccine, so it’s generally a safe vaccine. There are some who might have an egg allergy, and that’s something you can discuss with your PCP before getting the shot.
Have you heard anything about this year’s flu strain?
I actually just got my flu vaccine, and many patients were asking about this. We just haven’t had enough cases yet this year to determine the efficacy of this year’s vaccine. But, if people get the flu shot, and continue to wear a mask when out in public and follow other COVID precautions, our flu season might be a lot better this year than in previous years.
Where can people get a flu shot?
For patients at Scarsdale Medical Group, there are two convenient ways to get the flu shot. First, you can make an appointment with your physician and get the shot at the time of your visit. Or, we have a pediatric patient flu tent located at our offices at 600 Mamaroneck Road, and we have an adult flu tent at 259 Heathcote Road. Patients can make an appointment for one of our flu tents by calling (914) 723-8100.
Should children get a flu shot? At what age? What about pregnant woman?
The CDC recommends that children get a flu vaccine every year in the fall, starting at 6 months old. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age may need 2 doses for best protection. I’d advise that parents consult with their pediatrician on what age to start getting regular flu shots for their children. All pregnant women should be vaccinated for the flu, even if they had a flu shot the previous year. It’s safe, there are no contraindications for pregnant women, and it will protect them from experiencing high fevers that can be dangerous during pregnancy, or from getting pneumonia.
Should those who do get the shot expect to experience side effects?
The most common side effects are mild, and can be pain at injection site, swelling, or redness. These can be managed by using a warm compress or taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen. The flu shot is not a live vaccine, so you won’t get the flu from it.
Why is there a special vaccine for people 65 and over? What’s different about it?
For older people whose have a decreased immune system, there is a higher dose vaccine which is essentially just 2/10ths of a cc more than the regular vaccine. This is to boost their immune response to the flu.
If you already had coronavirus, do you need a flu vaccine this year?
Yes, definitely. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a different virus from the flu virus, so having had coronavirus doesn’t mean you won’t get the flu. Plus, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the likelihood of severe symptoms by about 50%, so it’s important to protect yourself and your family.
If you do have symptoms, how can you distinguish between the flu and the corona virus?
Flu symptoms are usually more acute—you wake up one morning and feel awful and have a fever. Coronavirus is usually more subtle at first and can include mild symptoms like a runny nose and body aches. The best way to know if it’s flu or coronavirus is to speak to your physician and get either a flu or COVID swab.
Tell us about yourself - what is your area of specialty, how long have you been at the Scarsdale Medical Group and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’ve been with Scarsdale Medical Group for about 6 years and am an internist. I also have a background in emergency medicine and was an ER physician off and on for about 20 years. I also specialize in wound care and hyperbaric medicine. In my spare time I like to cook and eat what I cook. I’m also a fan of automotive shows on TV. Pre-COVID, I really enjoyed traveling and hope to start doing that again in the future.
A Pediatrician's Advice on Preparing Your Child for a Smooth Re-Entry to School
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Category: Health
As Scarsdale Schools plan their re-opening, many parents are considering whether or not to send their children for in school learning, considering how well their children will do wearing a mask and thinking about how to reduce their own and their children’s anxiety.
We asked Dr. Samantha Lowe, a pediatrician with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates, to provide some information to help parents prepare their children for a safe and smooth re-entry to in-person learning.
Why does the AAP recommend that children return to school?
The AAP recognizes that children learn best when physically present in the classroom. Children also get much more out of the in-person school experience than academics. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, and receive mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.
Given that this is the first time we face this situation, what research is available on the effects of masks and social distancing on children?
The research is limited at this point as this is so new to the medical community and the community at large. What is known is that keeping children completely separated from their peers and loved ones for significant amounts of time can lead to general anxiety, depression and social anxiety. At this point, the only way to keep people connected in person is to have them wear a mask and stay socially distanced. This outweighs any fearfulness or discomfort the mask, or not being close to others, may can cause. Children are very quick to habituate to new situations, and while mask wearing and social distancing might initially instill fear as they see this is the new normal, they will usually adjust quite quickly.
As a parent, if you do have a choice, how should you assess whether or not to send your child to school or learn virtually at home?
I would recommend that parents consult with their pediatrician or family physician to weigh the risks against the benefits of returning to in-person school based on their child’s individual health conditions and family circumstances.
Do you think young children can successfully wear masks?
Kids are not used to wearing masks all day, so choosing the right mask is extremely important and is the best way to assure that kids will be compliant. I prefer surgical masks for children because they are light, disposable, and don’t annoyingly tug on the ears of little ones. The best mask for your child is the one they will not take off, that they can breathe in, that covers their nose and mouth and goes over the chin properly. Face shape and size will also determine the appropriate covering for your child. I also suggest a reusable mask with a filter that can be replaced daily without needing to wash the covering itself every day. Also, doing a fit test is key. It’s the same as when you get them a new pair of sneakers, ask, "Are you sure these are going to fit you? They aren’t too small or too big?”
Given where New York’s infection rate now stands, do you think it is necessary for children to wear masks and stay six feet apart?
YES until further notice.
How should parents speak to children about the new protocols?
Parents should be honest about what is going on in the world and what their new school environment will be like. It should be explained to children in an age appropriate way, as calmly and with as much detail as appropriate. It is important that children take ownership of their own health and understand that following instilled safety protocols is part of that.
How can they ease children’s anxiety?
Anxiety over the virus is very real. You want to provide your children with appropriate guidance as to how to manage themselves safely while not making them nervous. My best advice is to communicate with your school district and get as many facts as you can. A lot of kids are anxious, as they have been living in a cocoon these past few months. The more facts you have as a parent, the more you can help calm their anxiety for the best chance of a successful school year.
What should they advise their children about staying safe at school?
It is important that children understand what is expected of them in school to keep themselves and their peers safe. Explain what will be different and what will be the same about their school day this year. Empathize with children that masks can be uncomfortable, but reinforce that they are a very important step in keeping everyone safe. Make sure they understand what being socially distanced means and, as much as they want to be close to their peers, why it is important. Confirm that they are clear on the bathroom and lunch protocols for their individual school.
What should parents do after school to fill in for what children are missing in the academic, social and physical experience?
To limit exposure and transmission, children may be placed in small groups or “pods” and even remain in the same classroom all day, even for lunch. That will drastically cut down on the number of steps during the day, and limit the opportunity to expend some much-needed energy. Distance-learners face a similar issue. In many districts, physical education class is still a question. Daily exercise is going to be more important than ever. I advise that parents ask schools what they will do to ensure that kids get adequate body movement and brain rest during their day, which is essential to keeping hyperactivity at bay. I would really enforce getting some movement when kids get home, and discourage computer or screen time. They need to get outside and play and really move their bodies, not only for physical benefits but also for emotional benefits.
What’s your feeling about sending children to after school programs that may not have as stringent safety protocols?
Parents should fully understand what the safety protocols are for any and all programs that they are sending their children to. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect science and programs and schools alike are interpreting CDC and local DOH data to provide what they think is a safe environment for children. If you are not comfortable with a supplemental program and feel that it is placing your children, your family and others at too much risk, it might be better for you to not send them. If sending them to the program is not a necessity and is causing more anxiety for you as a parent, consider other alternatives for them.
GoFundMe Page Set Up to Help Victim of Head-On Collision in Scarsdale
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Category: Health
Friends of Carmen Alfano, who was badly injured in a head on collision in Scarsdale on September 20, have set up a GoFundMe page to help her pay for extensive medical expenses required for her recovery.
When the accident occurred, Alfano was on her way home to New Rochelle after caring for a Scarsdale resident’s pets. She was driving a 2005 Mercury Sable when her car collided head on with a 2015 Porsche 911 convertible at Church and Rectory Lanes.
Though the man who was driving the Porsche escaped with lacerations and was able to get out of his car on his own, Albano’s lower extremities were pinned in the dashboard and pedal area of the car, and both of her legs were fractured. In order to extract her from the car, firefighters used a dash lift and roll and Hurst tools to remove the roof, doors and glass of the car. Albano was treated by medics from SVAC while still in the car. Then firefighters lifted the dashboard, cut back the driver’s seat and Albano was lowered and slid onto a backboard before being transferred to a stretcher. She was transported to Westchester Medical Center. Her daughter was in the passenger seat and is being treated for trauma and injuries.
After a week of several surgeries and a stay in the ICU Carmen is waiting an additional surgery to save her leg which was profoundly damaged in the accident. She is able to speak and is eating a little as well. According to Jody Pontone, the concern and kindness from the Scarsdale community was a great source of comfort to Carmen’s husband Mark and their children, Jordan and Lexi.
Community Physicians Question the Safety of Elementary School Reopening Plans
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Category: Health
This letter was shared with Scarsdale10583 by a group of Scarsdale mothers who are doctors.
Dear Scarsdale School District Administration,
We are writing to you as concerned mothers and physicians on behalf of our children in the Scarsdale elementary schools. We write to you with several goals in mind. First, we want to emphasize the importance of following evidence-based risk mitigation. Second, we would like to raise concerns about the disinfection methods that the district plans to employ, particularly during the break between the AM and PM cohorts. Third, we would like to offer suggestions for how to make the elementary schools as safe as possible for both students and teachers. And lastly, we would like to offer our gratitude and assistance.
To our relief, young children do not appear to be major vectors of COVID19, however we know that sending our children to school during a pandemic involves some degree of risk. Fortunately that risk can be heavily mitigated with good ventilation, masks, and basic hand hygiene. We believe that the Scarsdale elementary schools can reopen safely, and we support the American Academy of Pediatrics in their recommendation for children to be physically present in school as much as possible.
Having reviewed the Scarsdale School District's re-start plan, we are concerned about the proposed disinfection process and the absence of a ventilation plan. Many popular disinfection practices create an illusion of safety but can actually pose significant risks to children, who inhale, ingest and absorb these products at much higher levels than adults due to their smaller body size, increased respiratory rate, higher body fat composition, and their tendency to put fingers and other objects in their mouths. In addition, children are still developing physiologically and are more subject to the effects of toxic substances. We have reviewed the disinfection products listed in the restart documentation and are aware that some of the ingredients are known to increase the risk of asthma. We are also concerned that some of the ingredients pose risks to other developing organs and systems. If we understand the current plan correctly, the PM cohorts may be entering classrooms shortly after the cleaning/disinfection process finishes.
Unlike many other viruses, COVID is spread primarily through the air, not via surface contact. Healthy lungs are our first line of defense against COVID. We risk undermining that barrier if we expose our lungs to irritants. Wiping down high touch surfaces like door handles is prudent, but the obsessive disinfection of most or all surfaces is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Additionally, while this should go without saying, cleaning products should be kept under lock and key at all times to prevent accidental ingestions. Statistically speaking, a young child is far more likely to be sickened or killed by accidental poisoning than by COVID19. Early data already shows that accidental poisonings have increased along with the increased use of disinfectants during this pandemic.
Good ventilation appears to be key in preventing COVID19 transmission. Fortunately, good ventilation is inexpensive and easy; it involves opening the windows and turning on a fan to help circulate the air. Leaving a classroom idle with the windows open and a fan blowing is the safest, easiest way to disinfect a classroom. Doing so is certainly preferable to dousing a school building with industrial chemicals. Outdoor learning and play is also an easy way to keep everyone safe as COVID19 appears to fare poorly outdoors. We request full transparency with regards to the School District’s plans for ventilation and disinfection in the elementary schools so that families can better assess the risk benefit ratio of sending their children to school.
As parents, we are entrusting the Scarsdale School District with our most precious, vulnerable assets during unprecedented times. As physicians, our first duty is to do no harm. We ask that the elementary schools take the same approach. We are concerned that under the AM/PM model, the PM cohort would suffer disproportionately in terms of their exposure to industrial disinfectants. In theory, the PM cohort may also face a higher risk of exposure to COVID19 if the classrooms are not properly ventilated between cohorts. None of us wants our own children to be in the PM cohort, and we feel an ethical obligation to advocate for all of the children in our district. Unfortunately the full day AA/BB model employed by other districts comes with its own set of limitations and challenges. For example, young children (and some adults) are unlikely to tolerate masks all day. Children and adults are less likely to tolerate the climate extremes inevitable in having open windows in the classrooms if the school days are long. Lunch time presents a logistical challenge. And having two days of school punctuated by five days without school seems undesirable for kids and hugely problematic for parents.
While we acknowledge that no model is perfect, we believe that a preferred elementary school model would involve a single cohort of students in the school per day (this could be any of multiple A/B plans, including a 6 day model of 3 on 3 off, alternating weeks, etc.). We believe that this plan is advantageous for the teachers as well because it would eliminate the need for teachers to evacuate buildings in the middle of the day while the buildings are being cleaned between cohorts, it would also reduce their exposure to disinfectants, and it would reduce their likelihood of being exposed to COVID19. These teachers are going to be the ones teaching our children. We believe that it is our fundamental responsibility to prioritize their safety as well.
We know that our children will have unusual school experiences this year because of COVID19, but we are also confident that the Scarsdale community can rise to the occasion. We want to offer our assistance to you as physicians, parents, and in some cases, Scarsdale alums. We realize that now is an extraordinarily challenging time to be a teacher and administrator. We are truly grateful for everything the School Board, the administration, and the teachers are doing on behalf of our children.
We of all people empathize with teachers who are fearful. As physician mothers, we never imagined that we would be asked to put our own lives at risk while also caring for and educating our children during a pandemic. Like millions of other essential workers, we have made tremendous sacrifices, and we will continue to do so. To that end, we ask our school district to partner with us: We are here to assist you in any way possible.
Dr. Deborah Hemel
Dr. Beth Rapaport Pass
Dr. Leah Blank
Dr. Suzanne Arinsburg
Dr. Hope Stephens
Dr. Doreen Chung
Dr. Monika Desai
Dr. Oksana Lekarev