Joe D Educates Families On How To Safely Return To School During Covid19 Pandemic

September 30, 2020

freedom on school bus

While students went “back to school” in August, they will soon return to the physical classroom. The medical team at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital (JDCH) in South Florida wants to ensure families are prepared for the new normal when it comes to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Returning to school this fall will require schools and families to work together more than ever before.

According to Ronald Ford, MD, chief medical officer at JDCH, if the schools can comply with the mitigation strategies put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including social distancing of at least six feet, mask wearing and frequent handwashing, then it should be safe for children to return to school.

Additionally, it is especially important that parents hold their individual school and school district accountable for strictly adhering to those policies for safe operation.

“Parents need to arm themselves with all the information provided by the school system so they are informed as to what is being done to keep kids, teachers and staff safe and to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Ford. “I would strongly encourage parents to speak with their children about what is happening in the classroom every day to ensure measures and safety plans are being followed.”

Currently, positive cases of COVID-19 in children continue to slowly increase, with the largest positive population being high school aged, according to state statistics.

While at least 25% of children who test positive are asymptomatic, a portion of them will exhibit symptoms ranging from fever, sore throat and cough to diarrhea, severe headache, vomiting and/or body aches.

The guidelines for testing children set forth by the CDC advise to test children for coronavirus as soon as they display any of the wide range of symptoms.

Lina Puntervold, JDCH infection control practitioner, has created 10 tips to help families return to school safely.

1. Practice Mask Wearing

While most of us have grown accustomed to wearing a mask for a quick trip to the grocery store, wearing a mask for an extended period may take some getting used to, regardless of age. During these next few days, have your child wear a mask at home for the same amount of time they would be wearing it at school.

2. Monitor and Re-Direct

While your child practices wearing their mask for an extended period, take this time to supervise their behaviors. Are they constantly touching their mask or trying to readjust? If they are reaching for their face, remind them to sanitize their hands prior to fixing their mask.

3. Safe Mask Removal

Although children should wear their mask all day at school, they will need to remove their masks during lunch time. Make sure they know to sanitize their hands before removing their mask, and then place it neatly on a paper towel, so it does not touch the table surface. After lunch, sanitize their hands again before placing the mask back on their face.

4. Pack an Extra Mask

Anything can happen at school (i.e., sneeze, mask accidentally falls on the floor, sweaty from P.E.). “Packing an extra mask ensures your child will continue to be safe, even when accidents happen,” said Puntervold.

5. Show Kids How Germs Can Be Transmitted

Using glitter is a great way to teach your child visually how easily germs are spread. Place a little glitter on a phone, iPad, remote control, game controller, hairbrush or toothbrush and then set a timer. When time is up, show them the glitter found on all the surfaces they touched and explain that the glitter represents how easily germs spread.

Take it one step further if they still have glitter on their hands and proper hand washing. This teachable moment demonstrates why we need to disinfect high touch/high traffic areas (i.e., doorknobs, light switches, remote controls) regularly.

6. After School Game Plans Are Key

Where will kids put dirty masks that need to be laundered? The CDC recommends we launder our masks daily. Consider the mask as a new extension of your child’s uniform or school attire.

How many masks do you think you will need to meet the needs of daily laundering?

7. Kids Should BYOS (Bring Your Own Sanitizer) To School Daily

Clean hands are extremely important to ensure we are healthy and infection-free. Pack at least one hand sanitizer in your child’s backpack. Make sure to go over the proper way to use hand sanitizer on the tops and bottoms of hands and fingers. Don’t forget in between the fingers too!

8. Sharing is Not Caring in The COVID-19 Era

“While we all encourage sharing and inclusivity, remind your child that sharing school supplies is not a good idea now,” added Puntervold. Consider packing extra items if your child may want to share supplies with a classmate. Remind your child to maintain physical distance while at school.

Even if a friend looks like they need a hug, kind words are just as wonderful.

9. Be a Good Listener

Children rely on their parents for comfort and guidance. Take the time to answer any questions your child may have about the current situation (i.e., pandemic, school opening, etc.). Acknowledge you child’s feelings, be positive and encourage open conversation about whatever it is they may be feeling.

10. Manage Kid’s Expectation

Daily school activities will look different. While most children will be excited to see their teachers and friends, gently explain the new school protocols and why they may not receive a welcoming hug from their teacher or a high-five from a friend.

Lunchtime? Field trips? Class parties? Classroom setups? Lockers?

Take time to go over the day-to-day school expectations with your child. This conversation will help your child have a smoother and more accepting transition to the new protocols.

Whether children return to the classroom or continue to learn from home, visit these helpful resources for families about COVID-19.