It’s back-to-school season! Many parents and children are excited—and maybe even a little nervous—about returning to in-person learning.
With the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19, parents are wondering about the best ways to keep their kids safe in the classroom this school year. Fortunately, by taking a proactive approach to your child’s wellbeing, there are ways to make the entire experience as safe as possible.
Going Back to School During COVID-19: Is It Safe?
Fall 2021 marks the second back-to-school season since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and most schools have returned to in-person learning.
But child cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise in recent months, leaving many parents feeling anxious and wondering: is it safe to send children who are too young to be vaccinated back to school?
In July 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines that recommend universal masking in schools for anyone over the age of 2, regardless of their vaccination status. That recommendation is stricter than the CDC’s current guidelines on masking, which state that fully vaccinated individuals can safely go without a mask indoors.
There are two reasons for the AAP’s stricter guidelines:
- Children under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine yet. In a school where a substantial proportion of the population is unvaccinated, schools must go the extra mile to prevent transmission.
- It’s difficult for schools to monitor who is and isn’t vaccinated. A universal masking policy is much easier to enforce.
Another goal of the AAP’s recommendation is to give parents peace of mind. School closures and the switch to virtual learning at the start of the pandemic were hard on a lot of families, which is why schools are trying so hard to make in-person learning as safe as possible.
3 Back-to-School Health Tips for a Successful School Year
By now, kids know that it’s important to wash their hands and wear masks. But there are other ways parents can set up their kids for success when returning back to the classroom.
1. Don’t skip the annual back-to-school physical—even if it’s not required
Most schools require kids to get physical exams before entering early childhood education, kindergarten, middle school, and high school. But even if a physical isn’t required for your child this year, an annual wellness check with a primary care physician is still recommended.
Depending on your child’s age and any pre-existing health conditions, an annual wellness exam may include:
- Diagnostic services
- Preventive treatments
- Mental health screenings
- Hearing and vision screenings
Talk to a family medicine practitioner about what kind of back-to-school health screenings they recommend.
2. Be proactive about your child’s mental health
The COVID-19 has been difficult for everyone, but it has been especially tough on children. A survey conducted by Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that 71% of parents reported that the pandemic has taken a toll on their child’s mental health.
Kids and teens often find it difficult to open up about their worries and anxieties, especially after over a year of social isolation. But there are steps you can take to help, including:
- Asking your child how they feel about returning to school and if they have any specific worries or concerns. You can also encourage them to speak up when they’re not feeling well physically or emotionally.
- Scheduling an appointment with a mental health counselor or physician who can screen your child for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
- Answering your child’s questions about the virus, as kids often look to their parents for answers and guidance when it comes to scary or new situations.
- Being a good role model. You can model healthy behaviors and attitudes by taking care of your own mental wellbeing. Talk to your primary care doctor if you don’t know where to go for mental health support.
3. Emphasize good hygiene habits
Every parent knows that kids and teens get sick a lot. It’s important to keep practicing good hygiene and health habits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that kids should:
- Get vaccinated as soon as possible. As of August 2021, kids over the age of 12 are eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Ask your family doctor about where to get vaccinated or search online for free appointments near you.
- Wear masks even if they’re vaccinated. The vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so continuing to wear a mask protects your child and their classmates.
- Continue to wash hands. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and before eating. Send kids to school with a mini bottle of hand sanitizer to use just in case.
- Stay home when sick. It can be hard for kids to stay home when they’ve missed being around their classmates, but staying home even when they have the sniffles is the best way to keep everyone safe.
Talk to a Family Doctor Today
It’s always the right time to get a checkup or talk to a doctor about your or your child’s concerns. Getting answers can help empower your child to make good decisions at school and make a successful return to the classroom.
Click here to schedule an appointment with a Florida Medical Clinic family medicine doctor at one of our locations across Tampa.