It’s back to school time again! But, with COVID-19 in our community, this year is not like any that we have experienced before. Politicians, administrators, doctors, and parents have struggled to determine if “back to school” is even possible, and if it is, to determine what is the safest way to have children back in school.
While we will not know for some time the definitive answers to these questions, we do know some actions that will increase the likelihood of children staying at school and remaining healthy. In fact, while the setting of children in school has changed, the concepts of protecting ourselves from COVID-19 remain mostly the same. Here are some important steps:
- All children should always wear a mask when around anyone but their immediate family. This appears to be the most effective step we can take to protect our children from contracting or spreading the infection. We now have numerous examples of rapid decline in cases in areas where masking becomes widespread. Additionally, it is important that children learn to wear their masks correctly. A poorly fitted mask is much less effective. Finally, the type of mask does matter. While a N-95 respirator is most effective at preventing transmission and must be worn in high risk situations like healthcare, it is not necessary in this setting. A disposable, surgical type mask has been shown to be the next most effective option and reduces the likelihood of transmission significantly.
- Hand hygiene is also critical. Even before COVID-19, studies had shown that regular hand hygiene in schools can decrease absenteeism due to illness by about 40%! This effort is even more critical as we now deal with a more dangerous infection than we have faced in the past. Alcohol based hand sanitizers or effective washing with soap appear to be equally effective and should be performed at least once an hour.
- Space Out. Usually, we do not encourage “spacing out” while in school as we want our children to pay attention and learn! But in order to protect your students from covid, spacing out refers to physical spacing. A person can become infected by spending just a few moments within 6 feet of an infected — if neither is wearing a mask. Unfortunately, the infection can spread over longer distances if enough time is spent together where there is inadequate airflow. Therefore, efforts to create smaller class sizes, fewer assemblies, having lunches in classrooms rather than cafeterias, enforcing masking, etc. make a big difference.
- Be absent. Again, usually we all try to avoid absences, but there are times when it is important. “Presenteeism,” when someone is present when they are contagious, is worse than appropriate absenteeism. Especially while we deal with this more serious infection, it is critical that any child with irregular symptom not return to school until cleared by a medical professional. Since children can have very mild or unusual symptoms, it is important not to try to guess if your child is infected. Get a professional opinion. The same applies to any child with possible exposure to COVID-19 infection. These children also should be cleared by a medical professional before returning to school.
The bad news is COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon and may be with us indefinitely. The good news is there are things we can do that will increase the likelihood of schools remaining safely open. We know this is conceptually possible by observing healthcare and other essential workers. When they follow guidelines like those above, transmission to healthcare workers is very rare, even in very high-risk exposures such as entire shifts of bedside patient care. Applying these principles to children presents unique challenges, but if successful, schools should be able to remain safely open.
If you have other questions, you may find other helpful information on our Coronavirus page or on the CDC website. If you need excellent care, or have additional questions about how to protect your students from COVID, please call CapRock Health System (979) 314-2323.