Editor’s note: This article was published on August 17, 2020. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.
As many school districts across the country discuss their back-to-school plans, parents also have to make the decision on how their children can return to school safely.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advocates that all considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees that students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.
“I can see how parents are overwhelmed with the depth of information and making the choice of whether or not they feel comfortable sending their child back to school,” said Dr. Nicole Giles, Marshfield Children’s pediatrician.
With several resources available on the topic, there are number of steps schools and parents can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep students safe. Experts at Marshfield Clinic Health System share these basic tips for back to school for parents and educators.
COVID-19 vaccine for kids 12 and older
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children 12 and older after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided the vaccine with emergency use authorization in May 2021. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine generated a strong antibody response. It was 100% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 during the phase 3 clinical trial for 12-15 year olds and 95% effective for those 16 and older.
In recent CDC recommendations, it was noted that vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
As we’ve all heard numerous times, social distancing of 6 feet is the goal. However, not all schools will be able to accommodate this due to classroom size and number of students.
Dr. Giles recommends physical distancing of desks three feet apart with children wearing masks or face coverings may provide a similar benefit.
Other places for parents to keep social distancing in mind include waiting in lines for restrooms, mealtime in cafeterias, school pick up and drop off lines. Staggered meal times and child drop off/pick up times may be necessary. Additionally, there may be an option for parents not to enter a school building or classroom to reduce transmission.
Playgrounds can a difficult place to enforce social distance. However, outdoor viral transmission is less than indoor. The CDC recommends smaller groups of children play together outside.
CDC also has recommendations for buses. Parents should consider other routes of transportation when possible. When children need to ride a bus, assigned seating, social distances and wearing a mask are options to help prevent spread.
As recommended, masks or face coverings can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Here are the latest CDC recommendations regarding face coverings while returning to school.
- Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Hand hygiene practices
CDC advises that handwashing is an easy, effective way to prevent the spread of germs and keep kids and adults healthy.
Parents, caregivers and teachers can help children develop hand hygiene skills at an early age. When a child is young, establish a routine and lead by example on proper hand washing.
“I would encourage hand washing or sanitizing upon entering and leaving buildings, classrooms, before and after using restrooms, as well as before and after eating meals,” Giles said. “I would also suspect students will be encouraged to avoid touching their face, particularly eyes, nose and mouth.”
CDC shares five easy steps to handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
When soap and water isn’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Remember, hand sanitizer is not as effective when hands are visibly soiled.
Cleaning and disinfecting
With CDC followed guidelines, our Health System infectious prevention specialists, like Michelle Kaiser, provide recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting throughout your home and school.
“Thoroughly read the manufacturer’s instructions/labels on cleaning and disinfection products before use,” Kaiser said. “This provides direction on what surfaces it’s appropriate for and how to effectively utilize them, including dilutions, concentrations and contact time.”
Before a surface can be disinfected, it first must be cleaned of visible soils. Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily like door knobs, handles, electronics, remotes and light switches.
Kaiser recommends utilizing EPA registered cleaners that are effective against COVID-19. View EPA approved list here. While using disinfectants, do not mix products together because this can create dangerous fumes. And, keep disinfectants out of the hands of children in a secured storage area.
Temperature and symptom checks have become a major component of the reopening process. Giles suspects each school may incorporate one or both of these.
“It may be feasible to perform temperature checks at school, but would largely be dependent on school district, class size and resources,” she said. “In any case, parents should be aware to keep their child home from school if febrile or ill. If a child is excluded from school attendance due to concern for COVID-19, they should contact the local health department or their provider’s office for further instruction.”
Stay home when sick
Even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, adults and children should stay home if they are sick. During the pandemic, if you have recently been in close contact with a person with COVID-19, it is appropriate to stay home.
CDC has criteria to help inform when someone should return to school or work:
Well child visits
No matter if your child returns to school this fall or starts learning from home, Health System providers are available for your families’ health care needs. Our pediatricians strongly encourage to keep your routine with well child exams and immunization schedules.
“Pediatricians across the country, including those within our Health System are taking extra precautions in cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing, mask wearing and more to ensure a safe environment,” Giles said. “Parents are encouraged to call with any questions or concerns prior to their appointments.”