Back-to-school health tips during the COVID-19 pandemic

For the first time in about 18 months, many children and adolescents are heading back to school in person. This change may be welcomed by some families: Their kids are finally able to learn in a classroom setting; they can see their friends and peers; and they can spend time away from home after being cooped up for so long. For others though, this change may be overwhelming and scary — especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise once again.

“What we have learned is that school is safe if done in a safe manner. Children deserve to be back in school for their mental health and the opportunity to learn,” says Dr. Rebecca Barros, a CHOC Primary Care Network pediatrician. “The community needs to work together to lower community transmission and protect our children.”

In this Q&A with Dr. Barros, learn how you can keep your children healthy at school this year.

What reassuring words might you tell a parent who is nervous to send their children back to school with COVID-19 cases on the rise?

Children — especially the younger ones — tend to do remarkably well with COVID-19; they either contract mild cases and recover quickly or don’t contract the virus at all.

Adolescents are more at risk for contracting the virus, but they can get vaccinated — which offers a critical layer of protection.

School districts are doing a great job of establishing policies to ensure children’s safety. They are requiring masks and making physical changes to their campuses, and they are very aware of precautions that need to be taken. Teachers will also be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

As added reassurance, CHOC and UC Irvine researchers recently concluded that within-school transmission of COVID-19 among K-12 students is low when proper precautions are followed. Read about that study here.

Learn strategies to help manage your child’s anxiety about returning to school during the pandemic.

What can parents do to keep families safe before school starts?

All eligible adolescents — 12 years old and above — should be vaccinated before school starts, and if school has already started, it’s not too late. The vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19 that we have. It’s also important to make sure that children are up to date with all other recommended immunizations and receive the flu shot this fall.  

Parents should also be vaccinated; the more that we can reduce transmission levels in our community through herd immunity, the less affected children will be. The best protection for children is protection from the community around them.

What precautions can families take to keep their children healthy at school?

Parents should encourage their children to wear masks and discuss proper mask-wearing with them. They may need to show children that their masks need to cover both their mouth and their nose to be the most effective.

Talk to children about hand-washing and sanitizing before meals; after coming in from outside; and before touching their faces.

If your child becomes sick, speak to school officials and your pediatrician right away to catch cases early and prevent spread.

Should children also wear masks while outdoors on school campuses?

Although levels of COVID-19 transmission outdoors have shown to be low, the delta variant’s transmission is proving to be a bit higher. Though they are not required, wearing a mask outdoors will give a child an additional layer of protection. Children will be required to wear masks indoors while on school campuses.

What precautions can families take at home to keep their children healthy?

Each family needs to determine its risk. If a family member is vulnerable, they should be vaccinated; the vaccine tremendously decreases the likelihood of severe illness and hospitalization caused by COVID-19.

Families should practice caution but not be overly anxious. Be on the lookout for COVID-19 symptoms in your family, isolate them to prevent spread, and call your doctor or pediatrician for testing and treatment.   

Additionally, learn about how the delta variant may affect your family.

Get ready for back-to-school with a visit to the pediatrician for immunizations, sports physicals and wellness checks.