Back-to-school safety in the age of COVID-19

By The Health News Team | August 5, 2021
Girl outside wearing backpack and mask

As kids, teachers and parents prepare for the new school year, many are left wondering: Are we ready? Yes, the vaccines offer protection from COVID-19, but they’re not yet available for kids under 12. And with the delta variant increasing COVID-19 cases across the country, there are understandable safety concerns with returning to in-person learning.

“We are certainly not out of the woods yet,” says Dr. Jyotu Sandhu, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy. “It’s a recipe for disaster when we are facing a variant and a section of the population is unwilling to get vaccinated.”

In general, kids infected with COVID-19 have milder reactions than adults do. However, many pediatricians are ramping up for a heavier than normal flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season. RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. When a child has a dual infection, such as COVID-19 and flu or RSV, it is harder for their bodies to fight them off.

Yet one of the biggest concerns with the approaching school year is the well-being of our older unvaccinated community. Kids are notorious for passing germs to each other and bringing those germs home to their families. Losing a parent or family member to COVID-19 is a devastating tragedy for a child at any age.

To help keep kids safe as they head back to the classroom, Dr. Sandhu recommends the following:

  1. Get all eligible members of your household vaccinated.
    A COVID-19 vaccine is your best defense against infection. Vaccinating all eligible members of your household helps protect your kids, which in turn helps protect their classmates and families.

  2. Reinforce the importance of masks, hand-washing and social distancing.
    The California Department of Public Health announced all students, staff and visitors will be required to wear face masks while indoors in K through 12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Be sure your child understands the importance of wearing their mask in addition to other precautions such as frequent hand-washing and keeping a 6-foot distance from others.

  3. Continue precautions with extracurricular activities.
    Many extracurricular activities have successfully operated during the pandemic without COVID-19 transmission. Continue to show vigilance as more of these activities start — by choosing outdoor or online activities — and following CDC guidelines for unvaccinated people.

  4. Discourage the sharing of school lunches or drinks.
    When it comes to school meal distribution, schools should implement measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission. Encourage your child to follow these measures, while discouraging them from sharing food or drinks with their friends.

  5. Keep kids home if they are sick.
    If your child is experiencing sickness of any kind, keep them home. Symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, sore throat, respiratory issues, stomach issues or headache, should be reported to the child’s doctor. And any positive COVID-19 test should be reported to the child’s school.

After a long and arduous pandemic year, a return to in-person learning can bring a range of emotions. Following important precautions not only protects children, but also sets them up for a successful school year.

“In-person learning is good for kids,” says Dr. Sandhu. “It helps them build relationships that they need to grow. At the same time, we’re still living through a pandemic. As we work to balance their emotional needs with their physical safety, we all need to do our part. The more we can get adults vaccinated, the better it will trickle down to our children.”

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