Backpacks and face masks: Dos, don’ts and other tips for going back to school during COVID-19

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Folders, binders and notebooks have replaced the pool floats and beach towels that dominated store shelves earlier this summer.

Parents and students know August signals the start of back-to-school season in Florida, but never before have face masks and hand sanitizer been as important as pens and pencils for a return to the classroom.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, parents who are sending kids back to the traditional school setting are trying to figure out how to prevent their children from getting sick or spreading this highly contagious virus to others.

“Kids everywhere share drinks, food, pens, toys, and much more,” said MariVi Wright, community partnership manager for THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “Children are constantly exposed to viruses and bacteria. When those germs are on a child’s hands and he or she then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose, infections can happen in seconds.”

Stop the spread

The single-most important thing parents can do, Wright said, is to teach their children proper handwashing before school starts and encourage frequent handwashing throughout the day. That includes:

  • Before and after meals and snacks
  • After using the toilet
  • After playing inside and outside
  • After wiping their nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Whenever their hands look, feel or smell dirty
  • When someone in the house is ill

Additionally, Wright and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered suggestions on what parents should tell children to do when they get back to school.

  • Wear a face mask, if appropriate.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when handwashing is not possible.
  • Immediately throw out tissues after use.
  • Bring a water bottle that no one else may use.
  • Stay home from school while sick.
  • Take daily asthma medication (if asthmatic).

Children with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19. Asthma education resources are available through the Community Asthma Partnership at Wolfson Children’s Hospital (CAP-W). Here are some suggestions parents should tell their kids not to do:

  • Don’t sneeze into hands. Instead, use a tissue or sleeve, if necessary.
  • Don’t share pens, pencils, books, musical instruments, utensils, food or drinks.
  • Don’t hug, high-five or touch other students. Maintain as much distance as possible.
  • Don’t touch unnecessary surfaces.
  • Forget about transportation. Make sure your child is wearing a mask on the bus or in the carpool, along with all other occupants of the vehicle (if appropriate).

Do as I say, and as I do

How can parents ensure their children follow through with these directions? It all starts at home.

“Your children will look at you as their model and guide, so make sure you are honest and accurate with the information you share with them,” Wright said. “Answer their questions with age-appropriate responses and be an example for hygiene practices.”

Wright also urged parents to make sure children are up to date on vaccinations. Along with access to health care, vaccines are one of the best ways to prevent diseases, Wright said.

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THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health offers age-appropriate lessons that encourage children to develop healthy habits. The “Germaine, The Germ Thing” program helps children learn how to prevent the spread of germs through effective handwashing. This program is available virtually to schools, after-school programs and other group settings targeting kids ages 3-7. Additionally, THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health offers free assistance to apply for KidCare or Medicaid for children who are uninsured. Spanish-speaking resources are available. For more information, call 904.202.WELL (9355).

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention