5 Back-to-School Safety Tips During the COVID-19 PandemicJune 29, 2021 - Katie McCallum
As a parent, one of the biggest challenges you’ve been managing is how to let your kid safely be a kid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many school districts, including those in the Greater Houston area, offering in-person classes this August, you're now facing the question of how to keep your kid safe in the classroom — especially as the more highly transmissible Delta variant continues to cause a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“As you prepare for your child to return to the classroom, rest assured there are measures you can take to help keep them healthy,” says Dr. Tina Luu, family medicine doctor at Houston Methodist. “Remember: You’re not in this alone. There are resources available, like your child’s primary care doctor, to help answer questions and provide the resources you need.”
Here are five ways to help ensure you send your kids back to school safely:
Schedule your child’s COVID-19 vaccination
On May 10, 2021, the FDA granted authorization for the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. The vaccine was initially only approved for teens 16 and older.
Expanding the age range for the vaccine is a huge step toward limiting the spread of the virus. If your child is 12, or will soon be 12, it’s time to consider scheduling his or her vaccine. If you have questions or concerns about your child being vaccinated, read our expert’s advice on the four things you should know before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Being fully vaccinated is one of the best measures you can take to keep you and your family safe. If you haven’t received your COVID-19 vaccine yet, schedule yours today.
Reinforce the everyday precautions
You know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, as well as what to do if you think your child might be sick. In addition, you've likely spent the entire summer reminding your kids about the everyday precautions they need to take to prevent getting sick.
But, for all of your efforts, you've probably also caught your kids standing way too close to other people, leaving their masks in the car or at home, and forgetting to wash their hands after touching common surfaces.
As you prepare to send your kids back into the classroom, be sure to reinforce the everyday COVID-19 precautions they will need to keep in mind, as well as what makes these precautions so effective:
- Social distancing is still important, even if your child is vaccinated. The most likely way for COVID-19 to spread is from person to person — primarily between people who come into close contact with one another. And, while COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection from severe illness, no vaccine is 100% perfect at preventing infection. Also, keep in mind that an infected individual can be asymptomatic but still contagious.
- Wearing a mask helps contain any potentially infectious respiratory droplets that may be released while breathing, talking or coughing — especially when social distancing is more challenging and even if the person doesn't yet know they're sick.
- Washing your hands can help limit the risk of getting sick by touching a contaminated surface and then spreading the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth if you touch your face. Surface-to-person transmission isn't the primary way COVID-19 spreads, but — just as an infected person releases respiratory droplets that have the potential to infect people nearby — infectious respiratory droplets can also contaminate nearby surfaces.
The Delta variant spreads much easier than the versions of the virus we've seen previously. Now is the time to recommit to these important safety practices.
Know and understand the safety measures being implemented
No matter how many precautions are being taken at your child's school, gathering a group of kids into a classroom will come with some level of risk. On the other hand, however, experts agree that children learn best when in a classroom. Given the importance of classroom learning, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published guidelines to help keep schools as safe as possible during the pandemic.
It's important to make sure that your child's school is adhering to the recommendations set forth by public health officials — implementing every plan and measure needed to keep your child safe while at school.
Schools should be proactively reaching out to you about these safety measures, but make sure you have the following questions answered:
- Have teachers and staff been vaccinated?
- What changes have been made to classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and buses to ensure social distancing?
- Will hand-washing opportunities be frequent and hand sanitizer readily available?
- Have cleaning services been increased and how often will high-touch surfaces be disinfected?
- Are students and staff who feel sick required to stay at home?
- What is the plan if someone at the school tests positive for COVID-19?
- What are you doing about sports and other activities?
Listen to your child's concerns
As a parent, you play an incredibly important role as not only a trusted source of information, but also as a confidante.
It's important your child feels comfortable expressing any concerns or anxiety he or she may have about returning to school during the pandemic, so try to be as available and prepared as possible. Being vulnerable is hard, though, so you may need to be the one to initiate the conversation if the topic doesn't come up on its own.
Whether your child is concerned about having to wear a mask all day or what might happen if there's a confirmed case at school, make sure you're listening intently, empathizing often and helping your child cope with his or her feelings in a reassuring manner.
Schedule an annual wellness exam
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do a lot of things, but it hasn't changed the importance of checking in on your child's — and your own — overall health and wellness.
A healthy immune system starts with a healthy kid, meaning checkups with your family doctor may be more important than ever right now. “Your child’s primary care doctor is an amazing resource and can provide insight into how to keep them safe as they return to face-to-face classes with their teachers and peers,” says Dr. Luu. And, as you’re scheduling your child’s checkup, it may be time to schedule your own annual visit (your health matters, too!). “Even if you’re feeling your best, it’s important to remember that having a primary care doctor who knows you and your health baseline is important for when you aren't feeling well.”
Still nervous about being in a doctor's office during the pandemic? Houston Methodist has extensive safety measures in place to keep you and your child safe during your visit, including:
- Vaccinating our staff
- Screening all patients when scheduling appointments and again upon arrival
- Practicing social distancing in waiting rooms and check-in lines
- Wearing masks and other personal protective equipment while providing care
- Cleaning all exam rooms, bathrooms and waiting areas thoroughly throughout the day
This article was updated on August 9, 2021 to reflect the evolving COVID-19 pandemic landscape.