Alumna Leads Pediatric Response to COVID-19
In January of 2020, Dr. Sara “Sally” Goza ’76 began her one-year term as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Goza is a pediatrician and managing partner in First Georgia Physicians Group in Fayetteville and serves on the Community Physicians Advisory Board for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. As Dr. Goza soon learned, her term would be far more fraught than normal with the spread of COVID-19.
Amid the pandemic, Dr. Goza served as an adviser to Woodward Academy in formulating the school’s reopening plans, and she also took part in a White House roundtable on safely reopening schools.
For her work in the field of health and for her community service, including serving on several nonprofit boards, Dr. Goza is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Woodward’s Alumni Association.
She spoke to Beyond the Gate about the ongoing pandemic, and balancing safety with returning children to school.
Beyond the Gate: When did COVID-19 start to become a concern for you?
Sally Goza: The American Academy of Pediatrics began monitoring the SARS-CoV-2 virus early in 2020, but toward the end of February we realized that this was going to be a major issue going forward. We set up an internal work group to stay informed about what was happening. This group immediately began working with government agencies and the CDC and our pediatric specialists on what our response would be. It was truly crisis mode beginning in early March. We canceled all in person meetings starting in March and closed our office to do remote work in the middle of March. We still are not having in person meetings and we will remain in remote work mode until at least summer of 2021.
BTG: What were the important actions you took?
SG: We quickly realized that pediatricians and families needed guidance on how to get through this pandemic and immediately began pulling our experts together to put out that guidance. It was in late spring or early summer that we initially put out the first version of our school guidance. Our guidance is based on the current information we have and is updated at least every 30 days or sooner if needed.
BTG: What was the reaction to the guidance?
SG: Our guidance was widely commented on and I even went to the White House to discuss school reopening in July. We as the AAP have stated that the goal should be to have children back to in person learning based on what is happening in the community and if mitigation measures can be done to make it safer for children, staff, and teachers. We have advocated for the government to put funding toward this as well.
BTG: Why is it so important for children to be in school?
SG: Children get more than just academics in school. In-person school helps the social, emotional, and behavioral development of children and adolescents. We also know due to the economic crisis we are seeing more children than pre-pandemic that are food and housing insecure. The guidance was recently updated and re-released and talks about mitigation measures such as mask wearing, frequent hand washing, physical distancing and avoiding gathering in groups. We know that children can get COVID, and they can spread it, and some children can get very ill from it, but we also have recent research that has shown school transmission mirrors community transmission but does not drive it.
BTG: What is the most important way of combating the pandemic?
SG: We must do everything we can to slow the community transmission of this virus. That means practicing the public health mitigation strategies of frequent hand washing, mask wearing for all people 2 years old and over—even in some sporting events—physical distancing, avoiding being in groups that are not people you live with and especially not large groups and staying home when you can. These are not easy, and we are all tired of doing them but now is not the time to let our guard down. We have hope with the release of the vaccines but to get to community immunity will take time and the virus is still surging. We must all do our part even though it is hard.
BTG: What have you thought of Woodward’s reopening efforts?
SG: Woodard over the summer made a plan that really incorporated the CDC and AAP mitigation guidance, and I think it has been successful in keeping students in school, but we cannot let our guard down now as the virus continues to spread out of control.
BTG: How has all this affected you?
SG: Personally, this pandemic has affected me in that my year as AAP president was grounded for travel, and I have become good at virtual meetings and presentations. My practice also was impacted as were all pediatricians’ offices. We quickly changed how we worked with doing away with the waiting room and having patients wait in their cars until we had a room for them and separating our sick and well patients into different areas of our office, wearing masks and goggle or face shields and full PPE as needed, and increasing what we did on virtual or telehealth visits. We are genuinely concerned though that even with all this, our patients avoided coming in and we are encouraging parents to make sure their children are up to date on vaccines and well visits. We worry about the anxiety and depression we were seeing before the pandemic and we know it is worse as the pandemic drags on. Just because there is a pandemic does not mean that other health issues just go away, and we do not want other illnesses to go undiagnosed or have delayed diagnosis.
BTG: What resources are out there for families that are struggling with health or mental health right now?
SG: The AAP has a social media campaign, #callyourpediatrician, and I encourage you to check it out. Also, our website for parents, healthychildren.org, has lots of information for families. Our member website aap.org also has information about COVID 19 and a way for parents to ask questions that you can access directly. I know we are all tired of this virus, but it is not done with us yet. As I told my fellow pediatricians in my presidential address, it is okay not to be okay, but reach out to each other and stay connected to help each other as we continue through this pandemic.