With many schools in the country now offering in-person classes, as a parent, one of the biggest challenges you must be facing is keeping your child/children safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may have concerns because the pandemic is not over yet, and newer variants of the virus (more contagious than the original one) have been reported.
As you prepare for your children to return to their classrooms, there are measures you can take to help keep them healthy. And, fortunately, some guidelines can help children and teachers stay safe from COVID-19 at school.
Ways to keep your school-going child as safe as possible
As you prepare to send your children back to school, be sure to reinforce the standard COVID-19 precautions like wearing a face mask, maintaining physical distance and washing hands regularly with soap or with sanitiser.
- Wearing masks: The WHO and CDC recommend that everyone over 2 years needs to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth snugly when inside the school and while riding in school buses where there could be a high risk of COVID-19 transmission. Consider these tips when sending your child to school with a mask
- Send your child to school with multiple face masks. Provide a clean mask and backup mask every day to your child. Also, provide a resealable bag to store the mask when they cannot wear it, such as at lunch.
- Label your child’s mask clearly, so it is not confused with another child’s mask
- Remind your child to clean his/her hands before and after touching their mask.
- Instruct your child not to share or trade their masks with others
- Physical distancing: Teach your child to stay at least 3 feet apart from others when in school. For some people (like staff and teachers) or in some settings (cafeteria or in the auditorium), staying 6 feet apart is much safer.
- Keeping clean: Talk to your child about the importance of keeping themselves clean and washing their hands well with water and soap or using hand sanitiser. Covering their coughs and sneezes with a tissue or in the inside of their elbow is equally important too.
- Clean and disinfect: Whether your child is attending school in-person or from home through online classes, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces (like faucets, doorknobs, laptops, keyboards, tablets and phones) help in reducing the risk of infection.
- Stay home if sick: Monitor your child every day for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. These include:
- Nasal congestion/runny nose
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Muscle pains
- Poor appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Loss of smell or taste
- Pink eyes
Know and understand the safety measures being implemented at school
It is important to ensure that your child’s school is adhering to all the recommendations set forth by government health officials — implementing all the precautions and taking all the measures needed to keep your child safe.
Schools should reach out proactively about all the safety measures, but ensure you get answers to the following few questions:
- What changes were made in buses, cafeterias, classrooms and hallways to ensure social distancing?
- Have teachers and staff been vaccinated?
- Are all the students attending the school in person tested negative for COVID-19 infection?
- Will the school provide hand-washing opportunities and make hand sanitizer available readily?
- Have all the high-touch surfaces been disinfected? If yes, how often are they cleaned?
- Are the staff and students who feel sick asked to stay back at home?
- What is the school’s plan if someone tests positive for COVID-19 at the school?
- What is being done about sports and other activities?
- Are there additional steps being taken to increase ventilation in classrooms and auditorium
Schools should encourage physical distancing by implementing the following measures:
- Reducing the number of children travelling in school buses
- Using outdoor spaces when possible for instruction, recess and meals and creating one-way traffic in the school hallways
- Spacing out student desks and having all of them facing the same direction
- Using physical barriers like plexiglass shields and partitions to separate students and teachers
Schools should also encourage students & staff to follow hand hygiene practices, checking if children are wearing masks, and covering their noses and mouths while coughing & sneezing.
Do encourage your child to develop daily before and after school routines that foster healthy habits like keeping a backup mask and hand sanitizer in the morning and washing their hands as soon as they come home.
Schools should take daily temperature readings of their students as a part of COVID-19 symptom screening.
To limit the spread of COVID-19 infection as well as other infections, children should avoid school and other activities and stay at home if they have any signs of infection or a fever.
Conclusion Communities, families and schools should work together to ensure students can safely remain physically together in the school where they need to be. Everyone eligible should get COVID-19 vaccination, including children (when it is made available). In addition, children should also get the flu vaccine, including other routine childhood and adolescent vaccines to prevent infections. When everyone does their bit, the whole community wins.