Dr. Jennifer Wessels, chief medical director with Home State Health, Centene’s Missouri health plan

Dr. Jennifer Wessels, chief medical director with Home State Health, Centene’s Missouri health plan

Word in Black / Chan  Zuckerberg Initiative

With a new school year underway, children have returned to area classrooms for in-person learning, and COVID-19 safety protocols are top of mind.  Dr. Jennifer Wessels, chief medical director with Home State Health, Centene’s Missouri health plan, says students, teachers and school staff should continue following public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“We all know that students benefit from in-person learning, therefore, staying healthy is a priority,” Says Dr. Wessels. “It is important that we continue to follow safety protocols that are outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “For adults and kids, washing your hands is still the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  It’s still a very solid defense.” 

Dr. Wessels likes to remind parents and caregivers that teaching small children how to properly wash their hands is key to blocking all respiratory infections, such as influenza and the common cold. “It’s easy to show smaller children how to really lather up their hands by singing. Something like, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” she adds. 

The CDC also recommends that students and school staff practice physical distancing guidelines and wear a mask, especially indoors. “Proper wearing of a face mask is a simple and very effective way to protect students who currently are unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Wessels.  

Home State Health manages the health care of close to 150,000 children under the age of 12 in Missouri. Dr. Wessels encourages parents to talk with their child’s pediatrician about COVID safety, as well as all childhood immunizations, including those for the flu. “Parents can follow the approval process for COVID-19 vaccines, and make sure they ask questions and get answers regarding vaccine safety,” she said.  Medical experts expect that a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children, ages five to 11 could be approved by the end of October.  

And, it’s flu season 

With the arrival of winter and cold temperatures comes influenza and a host of other respiratory illnesses like the common cold and pneumonia. This flu season, COVID-19 will confuse an already complex menagerie of respiratory symptoms. Both influenza and COVID-19 are highly contagious respiratory viruses. They can both cause anything from a mild condition to a severe or life-threatening illness. 

Dr. Wessels states that the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to get fully vaccinated.  “Vaccinated people are still very well protected, and the vaccines are effectively reducing the risk of hospitalization, severe illness and death,” she adds. 

In the battle against the flu, doctors recommend that everyone older than age six months should receive a flu shot unless the individual has an allergy or significant reasons not to receive the vaccine.  Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines can be administered at the same time as other vaccines, even on the same day, according to Dr. Wessels.  “It is especially important to be protected from both COVID-19 and influenza as we enter the winter months when people spend more time indoors and may increase family visits during the holiday,” she adds.   

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