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Jefferson Health

Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

Health Tips for Going Back to School During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Masks and hand sanitizer have joined colored pencils and crayons on the school supply list, and there have been a few additions to the back-to-school routine.

As schools around the country begin to welcome back students, parents and staff are eager to make sure they are following every preventive measure. To understand more about how we can prepare for heading back to class during the pandemic, we spoke with two physicians at Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children: Dr. Salwa Sulieman, pediatric infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Christopher Wilbur, pediatric specialist.

Coronavirus Safety Practices

The familiar trifecta of coronavirus prevention methods are the same ones we need to be teaching our children: wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands.

“The simple rule is to wear a mask any time you are outside the home,” says Dr. Sulieman. In classrooms, children should only remove their mask during socially distant breaks outdoors and during lunch—which should ideally be outside or distanced indoors.

Social distancing is critical. According to Dr. Sulieman, children must distance themselves from anyone they come into contact with. The droplets that spread are large and heavy, and fall within three to six feet while singing, walking and talking. “Children should be social distancing and wearing a mask…not or,” says Dr. Sulieman.

And of course, children should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before eating and regularly throughout the day. While soap and water are the best at removing bacteria, hand sanitizer can be used as an alternative if it is at least 60% alcohol-based and rubbed until completely dry.

Hand sanitizer and mask beside a backpack, the new school essentials.

The New School Routine

This year, there’s a little more to do to get ready for school than packing lunches and backpacks.

Screening children for COVID-19 symptoms should be a daily occurrence. “You must check in with your child every day before school to make sure they don’t have a fever, cough, trouble breathing or a runny nose,” says Dr. Sulieman. “Temperature checks are essential. There will be an honor system for screening kids. If they aren’t feeling well, let them stay home.”

Dr. Wilbur explains that children should be prepared to properly wear a mask—covering both the mouth and nose to cover any exposure to airways. “While many schools will be virtual to start, or completely virtual, we must emphasize this message again when it’s time to go in person,” he adds.

Supporting Our Teachers

Just as we prepare to help our children, we must also care for our teachers. “Whether school is in-person, virtual or a hybrid, we must be supportive of our teachers no matter the environment,” says Dr. Sulieman.

Simply reinforcing the importance of good hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks can be supportive, but there are other creative ways to share your appreciation for teachers as well. For example, Dr. Wilbur suggests sewing and donating a supply of masks that your school or district can distribute.

The Big Picture

Even in these difficult times, parents must try to make school a positive experience. Children may feel stressed by the number of new rules and guidelines, including staying distant from friends and teachers. While safety is key, parents should still take time to help children focus on the fun aspects of school, such as returning to the classroom, seeing friends and having social interactions.

When talking to your children about returning to school, it’s important to let them know that it is going to feel different than it did in February or March. —Dr. Sulieman

It’s also good to remain cautious about the pandemic. You shouldn’t assume that your kids have zero risk of contracting coronavirus if your school decides to resume in-person classes. “This is a situation that is rapidly evolving in terms of scientific findings and information available and science,” says Dr. Wilbur. “While this disease is typically milder among children, those hospitalized can be quite sick.” And children who contract the virus, even in mild cases, can transmit it to adults both at school and in the home. To ensure a safe school year, we must continue to enforce wearing a mask, social distancing and maintaining good hand hygiene at all times.

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COVID-19, Healthy You