The A-B-Cs of Back-to-School in 2020

August 4, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Bruce N Terrin, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.

Joseph Fruchter, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

By: Alex Herschman and Sarah Edenbaum

Although there are still many uncertainties about how school will look this fall*, many parents are naturally worried about sending their child back and keeping their child safe against the spread of COVID-19. While you can’t control the virus itself, you can control the actions that are taken to reduce your child’s risk of getting the infection. Follow these steps before, during and after school to ensure the health and safety of your child.

* While many school districts are still working through reopening plans, this article is written considering schools plan to reopen in some form this fall.

Before School Starts

Even before the next school year begins, there are measures you can take to help keep your child well and help them develop healthy habits.

1. Practice “mask training” – Teach your child how to properly wear a mask for long periods of time. This includes demonstrating how to cover both their nose and mouth for full coverage. The sooner you start practicing with children, the more comfortable they will become with it. In the summer months, consider practicing mask wearing while watching TV, and doing outdoor activities to slowly build up your child’s mask tolerance. Here’s more information about kids and masks.

2. Schedule a well-visit – Make sure to take your child for a well-visit at the pediatrician before returning to school. “Well-visits are a critical time to identify any red flags in growth or development, and stay on track for necessary vaccines,” says Bruce Terrin, M.D., a pediatrician at Hackensack Meridian Medical Group. “It’s particularly important that you and your child get the flu shot by late summer or early fall to reduce your risk of getting the flu and potentially getting COVID-19 at the same time.”

Once School Begins

1. Prepare a health toolkit – “If your child is attending in-person learning, send them to school with a clean mask and tissues for grabbing high-touch surfaces. You should also check with the school to see if they are supplying hand sanitizer. If not, consider packing that for your child as well,” says Joseph Fruchter, a pediatrician with Hackensack Meridian Medical Group. For children of younger age, hand sanitizer is appropriate under observation from an adult.

Also, be sure to pack lunches for kids that they can open without any assistance from teachers or other students. Have them practice opening items such as snacks, drinks and sandwich containers by themselves.

2. Conduct symptom checks – “It is crucial that you take your child’s temperature before sending them to school,” says Dr. Fruchter. If a child, or any family member in the home, exhibits early signs of sickness, err on the side of caution and keep your child home. Symptoms of concern include, but are not limited to:

  • Fever* or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

*Though the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) defines a fever as a temperature of 100.4°F/38°C, some schools and other businesses/organizations may define a fever differently (for example, 100°F or greater). Make sure to check with your school to determine what specific guidelines they are using.

While at School

If your child is going back for in-person learning, stress the importance of masking, washing and social distancing.

1. Mask-wearing – Wearing a mask properly can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends children age two and older wear masks. “A child may be more inclined to wear a mask if they see their teacher and other classmates doing so,” says Dr. Fruchter. A properly worn mask should fit snugly over the nose and tuck under the chin. The fitting should not slip down or expose the whole nose.

2. Handwashing – Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect against the virus and should be done repeatedly throughout the day. As Dr. Terrin advises, “Children should wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds each time and should refrain from touching their eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.” Hand-sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content is also an option if soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly dirty.

3. Social distancing – While physical distancing may be challenging in a classroom environment, there are ways to minimize the sharing of germs. “Children should avoid sharing school supplies such as play toys, pens/pencils, markers and scissors, along with lunch items,” says Dr. Fruchter. If possible, eat meals in the classroom or outside versus the lunch room.

If learning tools are shared, they should be sanitized between students. It is not yet clear how effective sanitizing between uses is to minimize the spread of COVID-19, but it is recommended.

After-School

Establishing an after-school hygiene routine with your child is a great best practice to keep your home as free from germs as possible.

1. Practice cleanliness – Have your child remove their shoes upon entering the house. Encourage them to thoroughly wash their hands immediately when they come home, and keep good hygiene by showering regularly. Be sure to wash your child’s clothes after each wear and to clean and/or replace masks regularly as well. If using a cloth, reusable mask, wash and dry after each use.

2. Checking-in emotionally – A new school year, with many new obstacles, is certainly stressful and emotionally challenging for kids, especially those who are learning virtually. Be sure to connect with your child each day to see how they are coping with their new norms and what they are experiencing both at school and at home with their learning. Reassure your child that they are doing a great job.

“During this time of great uncertainty, the best way to move forward and ensure safety is to take all of the necessary precautions and to be proactive,” says Dr. Fruchter. “For any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact your child’s doctor.”

Upcoming Event

For more information, on August 26 from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health will be hosting a webinar entitled, “The Rule Book on Back-to-School in 2020”. Register for webinar.

Resources and Next Steps:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult school for learning concerns and your physician for individual care.