With the Delta variant on the rise, here’s how to keep your kids healthy as they head back to the classroom.
From going back to school and reuniting with friends and classmates, to planning the perfect first-day-of-school outfit and participating in fall sports, fall is usually a time of excitement for both parents and kids. Sadly, the pandemic has added stress and anxiety to many families’ back-to-school traditions.
It’s more important than ever to keep children safe and healthy—especially when those under age 12 are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your children’s health when they go back to school this fall.
The Importance of the Classroom
Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has taken a toll on children by removing them from their classrooms and distancing them from their friends. Going back to school is important to help them address their mental, emotional and physical health needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is strongly recommending a return to in-person learning in the fall: “Given the effectiveness of safety precautions when used consistently, children are at higher risk of suffering mental health issues and developmental setbacks if they miss out on in-school learning.”
While parents may be concerned about the transmission of COVID-19, we’ve seen that mitigation strategies like vaccination, masking, social distancing and sanitation protocols are effective at stopping the spread. “Safety and prevention are multi-layered,” says Dr. Neil Rellosa, who specializes in infectious diseases and pediatrics at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware, and consults at Jefferson Abington Hospital. “No singular strategy is entirely effective in preventing the spread, so we need to take as many precautions as possible while still allowing our children to go back to in-person learning.”
Safety and Prevention Techniques
When it comes to preventing the transmission of COVID-19, parents and children should follow the same techniques that have kept us safe so far. “For those who are eligible, parents should get their children vaccinated or encourage them to get the vaccine,” says Dr. Rellosa. Other strategies to stop the spread of COVID-19 include:
- Masking for children over two years old
- Social distancing as much as the classroom allows
- Upholding proper handwashing techniques
- Keeping kids home when they’re sick
“Ideally, everyone should be wearing a mask in the classroom, but every school’s protocols are different and parents have to make the decisions that are best for their family in terms of health and safety,” says Dr. Rellosa. “We should be thoughtful about transmission outside of the classroom as well, which means trying to keep playdates and other social activities outdoors, masking and social distancing wherever possible and carefully considering the precautions put in place during team sports that your kids may be participating in.”
Staying informed about transmission in your area is also essential to protecting the health of your children, especially as we see the rise of the Delta variant in many parts of the country. “We’re seeing the worst of the Delta variant transmission in the unvaccinated areas of our country,” says Dr. Rellosa. “This is not because the virus has changed but because many places have relaxed mitigation measures. The same strategies that kept us safe from COVID-19 will protect us from the variant.”
Teaching Kids to Protect Their Health
Many parents have already taught their children the techniques to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but now that kids are going back to school, we should be continuing to model and remind them of how to protect their health every day. “This is a good lesson for young people on keeping yourself safe, no matter what others around you are doing,” says Dr. Rellosa. “Kids are often more resilient and intuitive than we give them credit for. They do understand why we have to do things like masking and social distancing to protect our health, especially with continual messaging.”
Just as important as talking to your children about masking, social distancing and handwashing is modeling those behaviors yourself. “When kids see their parents putting a mask on, even when it’s optional, they’re more likely to follow that behavior,” says Dr. Rellosa.
Keeping on Top of Trends and News
News about COVID-19 and its variants is updated every day. Parents should be arming themselves with information about safety and prevention as well as what their individual schools are doing to protect their children. “Being an active participant in your school district can help guide their decision-making and ensure that your children’s schools are implementing strategies to keep them safe,” says Dr. Rellosa.
If you have questions or concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and sending your children back to school, speak with your child’s pediatrician.