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September 03, 2020 3 min read

Going Back To School

District Health Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health, Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MBA, shares her helpful tips to create a safer academic environment for both students and staff.

“Education in the time of COVID” has presented both parents and educators with unanticipated challenges as they try to promote an optimal learning environment while keeping both students and staff healthy and safe.

Depending on where you live, you may be facing either virtual learning, in-school education, or a hybrid of the two. Discussions have shifted from notebooks and supplies to masks, wipes and face shields. Particularly for parents of younger children, this new school year will be a challenge, as new social norms must be created that discourage touching and close contact. 

With frequently changing guidance and differing policies from school district to school district, it is critical to have some baseline practices that should be consistent no matter where you attend school. Here are 7 tips to help:

Tip #1: Equip them with the right face mask

Think of the three f’s – Fit, Features and Functional

Fit – A child’s face is still growing; without a proper fit, the mask will not work as intended. Select a mask that fits securely and is comfortable. Choosing a one-size-fits-all option for children may work. However, it is best to select an option that is measured.

Features – A key feature to consider when selecting a mask is what additional protections does it afford? Choose one that offers antibacterial protection as this helps to limit the ability of bacterial particles from spreading.

Functional – Functionality is one of the more important F’s of selecting a masks. Consider a reusable masks, which are excellent as they can be laundered after worn, but they also help to reduce the burden on the environment and are more economical

Tip #2: Make sure your kids understand the importance of mask wearing, even if their friends do not

Establish your family principals – mask wearing may be uncomfortable at times, but it is necessary to keep our family and our neighbors well.

Tip #3: Arm them with the right supplies

Back to school does not only mean a shopping list for new books and pens. The shopping list must also include – wipes, hand sanitizer, masks and other items for community use such as antiviral air sprays which help to keep the classroom clean.

Tip #4: Make sure they follow good hand-hygiene habits

Washing and sanitizing hands should be an everyday practice, even when they are just staying at home. Keeping their hands clean are essential to helping protect them.

Tip #5: Discuss the new norms

Social distancing and limited contact even when face to face is necessary. We may want to hug our friends and to close the social-distance gap but what we do today, will help us to enjoy tomorrow. The small sacrifice of remaining six feet apart will allow us to engage in our normal activities again soon.

Tip #6: Make sure to check-in

Returning to school during a pandemic is not only frightening it is also stressful. It is important to make space and time to listen to your child’s concern. Encourage them to share how their day went. It is through these discussions you will learn where they may need help navigating the changing norms brought on by the pandemic.

Tip #7: Schedule your annual check-up

It is important to ensure your child’s health is in check. Scheduling an annual or back-to-school checkup is an excellent opportunity to assess your child’s readiness to return to the classroom. During this time, your Pediatrician may advise on whether returning to school is wise based on your child’s medical history. They may also suggest other vaccinations like the flu-shot as a precautionary measure. The flu has many symptoms that mimic COVID-19, having a flu vaccine will be more important than ever.

Please know that management of the COVID-19 pandemic is a moving target, with guidance and recommendations changing frequently.  The above tips will help not only with COVID-19, but with other infectious diseases we expect to see throughout the school year.  Good hygiene habits go a long way and will hopefully help us in ending this pandemic sooner rather than later.

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