back to school classroom

Back-to-school safety tips during a pandemic

As the start of the school year approaches, school districts are preparing for the possibility of having students back on campus for in-classroom instruction. There is still a lot of uncertainty about the ability of schools to safely welcome students back in person. However, as a parent, you can prepare your child and reduce their risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Talk to your child

Most children are already aware of the coronavirus and that their lives have changed, so you should be up front about the situation and empower your child to do their part to help stop the spread.

“I think it’s extremely important to set a positive tone,” said Ameera Nauman, MD, a pediatrician for OSF Medical Group – Primary Care in Godfrey, Illinois. “Remain calm and know that children react to what you say and how you say it. Give them some control. Let your children know how to keep themselves and others protected, so they see these precautions as something that’s not daunting, but what we’re doing to keep us all healthy. And provide them with the simple reassurance that lots of researchers and doctors are working as quickly as they can to keep everyone safe.”

A mask for every day

Have a mask for every day for your child. A cloth face mask should be washed before being worn again, and having enough masks for every day of the week helps make sure your child always has a clean mask. Most cloth masks can be laundered with regular clothing. You can put them in the dryer at the highest setting or air dry them in the sun.

Proper mask handling

Make sure your child knows how to handle their mask safely. When they need to remove the mask, or put one on, they should only handle the ear loops or the tie-strings and disinfect or wash their hands immediately after.

An extra mask at the ready

Have an extra mask in a plastic baggie every day just in case something happens to the first one.

Have sanitizer on hand

masked child washes their hands in schoolMake sure your child has hand sanitizer for when soap is not readily available. Hand sanitizer should be contain at least 60% alcohol.

“Make sure your kids are old enough to understand hand sanitizer and won’t drink it,” Dr. Nauman said.

You child should understand to use sanitizer when their hands are not visibly dirty, and they know how to properly wash their hands with soap and water. Supplying your child with paper towels, disinfectant wipes or tissues can also help them prevent the spread of germs.

Follow the school’s lead

“It’s going to be a different kind of school year, but I think schools will have their own supply list, too, so pay attention to it and get what the school asks for,” Dr. Nauman said.

Schools will have to do more intensive cleaning of high-touch areas, like door knobs, etc. They may ask for disinfectant wipes, paper towels, facial tissues or liquid soap to help make sure classrooms have enough sanitary supplies for all the students.

Prepare for at-home schooling

When school returns, in-school instruction may not be safely possible. A fully or partially online schedule may require your child to learn online from home.

In this case, make sure you have a quiet, dedicated work space set up where your child can work without too many distractions.

“Knowing that kids are going to be in front of a screen a lot more potentially, when it’s time to shut off from school, get them away from that area,” Dr. Nauman said.

Maintaining a routine schedule is important, too.

“Routine and consistency help a lot of kids,” Dr. Nauman said. “Especially if they have ADHD or anxiety, this can really help them. Routine is how children learn work ethic. Most of us get up early in the morning, get ready and go to work. It provides a sense of accomplishment; a sense of control and ownership over what they’re doing. At a time of great unknowns, these are things that don’t change.”

Your child’s pediatrician is a great resource and you should contact them if you have questions.

Last Updated: April 14, 2021

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: COVID-19, Kids & Family