kids holding safety signs

5 Back-to-School Safety Tips During the COVID-19 Pandemic

~Katie McCallum

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges you're managing right now is how to let your kid safely be a kid during the COVID-19 pandemic.  And with back-to-school season looming, you're facing a new, stressful question: Is it safe to send my kid back to school?  Some regions, including the Greater Houston are experiencing widespread transmission of COVID-19. In response, school districts are beginning school 100% online in August, delaying in-person classes until September.Please Enter Valid Email  But once community spread does lower in Houston and schools do reopen their classrooms, here are five ways to help ensure you send your kids back to school safely.

Reinforce the everyday precautions

You know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, as well as what to do if you think your child might be sick. In addition, you've likely spent the entire summer reminding your kid about the everyday precautions he or she needs to take to prevent getting sick.  But, for all of your efforts, you've probably also caught your kid standing way too close to other people, leaving his or her mask in the car or at home, forgetting to wash his or hands after touching common surfaces, and — we all struggle with this one — touching his or her face way too often.

 As you prepare to send your kid back into the classroom, be sure to reinforce the everyday COVID-19 precautions he or she will need to keep in mind, as well as what makes these precautions so effective.

·         Social distancing reduces close contact between people, limiting his or her risk of getting sick via the infectious respiratory droplets a person with COVID-19 releases nearby while breathing, talking or coughing. You should also remind your kids not to share food, drinks, or anything, for that matter, with their friends. It's just not safe.

·         Wearing a mask helps contain any potentially infectious respiratory droplets that may be released while breathing, talking or coughing, especially when social distancing is more challenging and even if the person doesn't yet know they're sick.

·         Washing your hands limits the risk of getting sick by touching a contaminated surface and then spreading the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth if you touch your face.

Know and understand the safety measures being implemented

No matter how many precautions are being taken at your child's school, gathering a group of kids into a classroom will come with some level of risk. On the other hand, however, experts agree that children learn best when in a classroom. Given the importance of classroom learning, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published guidelines to help keep schools as safe as possible during the pandemic.  It's important to make sure that your child's school is adhering to the recommendations set forth by public health officials — implementing every plan and measure needed to keep your child safe while at school.

Schools should be proactively reaching out to you about these new safety measures, but make sure you have the following questions answered:

·         What changes have been made to classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and buses to ensure social distancing?

·         Will there be a universal masking policy for all students (if age appropriate) and staff?

·         Will hand-washing opportunities be frequent and hand sanitizer readily available?

·         Is the use of shared equipment being minimized?

·         Have cleaning services been increased and how often will high-touch surfaces be disinfected?

·         Are students and staff who feel sick required to stay at home?

·         What is the plan if someone at the school tests positive for COVID-19?

·         How are you monitoring changes in community spread?

·         What are you doing about sports and other activities?

Listen to your child's concerns

As a parent, you play an incredibly important role as not only a trusted source of information, but also as a confidante.  It's important your child feels comfortable expressing any concerns or anxiety he or she may have about returning to school during the pandemic, so try to be as available and prepared as possible. Being vulnerable is hard, though, so you may need to be the one to initiate the conversation if the topic doesn't come up on its own.  Whether your child is concerned about having to wear a mask all day or what might happen if there's a confirmed case at school, make sure you're listening intently, empathizing often and helping your child cope with his or her feelings in a reassuring manner.

Schedule an annual wellness exam

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do a lot of things — but it hasn't changed the importance of checking in on your child's overall health and wellness.  A healthy immune system starts with a healthy kid, meaning checkups with your family doctor may be more important than ever right now.  Nervous about being in a doctor's office during the pandemic? Houston Methodist doctor offices have extensive safety measures in place to keep you and your child safe during your visit, including:

·         Screening all patients when scheduling appointments and again upon arrival

·         Practicing social distancing in waiting rooms and check-in lines

·         Wearing masks and other personal protective equipment while providing care

·         Cleaning all exam rooms, bathrooms and waiting areas thoroughly throughout the day

Let your parental instincts guide you

There are tons of terrifying "firsts" you've been preparing for since you became a parent. The first time spending a night apart from your baby. The first time your child goes to a sleepover. The first time your teenager takes the wheel.  But no parent was prepared for the anxiety and stress of sending his or her child to school during a pandemic.  In a time when almost any activity outside your home comes with a risk, don't be afraid to rely on your parental instinct as your guide.

 With many schools offering the option of online learning, you may decide to keep your kids in 100% online classes this school year or semester. Or, knowing how important classroom learning and socialization are for your child, you may decide that you've done your homework when it comes to safely sending your child back to school.  No matter what you choose, your parental instinct will help you feel confident that you've made the right decision for your child and your family.