Ask the Pediatrician: How can parents ensure children are as safe as possible during in-person learning? | Lifestyle
Q: My kids are finally going back to school. How can I be sure they are protected against COVID-19?
A: After more than a year of virtual learning, children going back to school in person have expressed many questions and concerns. We know how important personal learning is for children, but not all students are vaccinated, and it’s important to do everything we can to minimize the risks.
To help students, teachers and staff stay healthy and physically together, here are some important safety recommendations for you and your family to follow and check to make sure your children’s school adheres to them. holds:
— COVID-19 vaccines: All adults and children aged 12 years and older who are currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines should receive the vaccine. The two-dose Pfizer vaccine is approved for children ages 12 and older, and they are fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose.
— Face masks: Everyone over 2 years old must wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth. This is a simple, proven tool to protect students who cannot or will not receive the vaccine yet. When fitted properly and worn correctly and consistently, face masks are effective and safe to wear for long periods of time, such as during the school day. The vast majority of children, even those with medical conditions, can safely and effectively wear face masks with adult practice, support, and role modeling. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about certain medical and developmental disorders that would prohibit the use of a mask.
— Physical Distance: Students should stay at least 3 feet apart in classrooms whenever possible. In general, the CDC recommends that people who have not been fully vaccinated stay at least 2 meters away from other people who are not in their household. However, several studies from the 2020-21 school year show low levels of COVID-19 transmission among students in schools who were less than 6 feet (1.8 meters) from physical distance when the school used other prevention strategies, such as masks. Whenever possible, schools should use outdoor spaces for instruction and meals to maintain distancing. For example, activities such as singing, band playing and sports are safest outdoors and with dispersed participants.
— Classroom Routines: In schools, teachers should move between classrooms whenever possible, rather than students filling the corridors between classes. Students should be able to eat their lunch outside at their desks or in small groups rather than in crowded lunchrooms. Due to the need to remove face masks while eating, it is best to keep unvaccinated students six feet apart during lunch. Weather and air quality permitting, teachers should open windows and doors to improve air circulation.
— Cleaning, Disinfection and Hygiene: Schools must follow CDC guidelines for properly disinfecting and disinfecting classrooms and common areas. Students and staff should be encouraged to wash hands regularly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
— Testing: The CDC recommends offering screening tests to students who are not fully vaccinated when there are higher levels of COVID-19 cases in the community. Test screening can also provide additional protection for schools that cannot provide optimal physical distance between students.
— Temperature checks: It may not be feasible to measure the temperature of students at school. Parents should monitor students’ health and keep them at home if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or have signs of illness.
— Exposure: With new virus variants circulating, schools need to plan exposures. If a student or staff member has close contact with someone known to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, they should be quarantined as recommended by local public health officials unless they are fully vaccinated.
Schools are stimulating and enriching places for children and teens to learn and thrive. Families, schools and communities can work together to ensure that students can physically stay together at school this fall, where they need to be.
ABOUT THE WRITER
dr. Sonja O’Leary is a pediatrics specialist in Denver, Colorado, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health Executive Committee. For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org, the AAP’s parent website.
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