CHEYENNE – As kids prepared to head back to school this week, parents had more to think about than just stocking up on notebooks and pencils. With the coronavirus still present across the state of Wyoming, school districts across the Cowboy State have already implemented additional health and safety precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Still, there’s a number of steps parents can take to help keep their kids healthy during the school year.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, Wyoming’s state health officer, has led the charge in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and she shared a number of best practices that will help prevent a rise in infections and keep kids in the classroom.
The big four
For the last sixth months, health experts have preached the same advice over and over again: wear your mask, wash your hands, keep a safe social distance and stay home when you’re sick. While such advice may have gotten repetitive, there’s a good reason behind it.
According to Dr. Harrist, those four steps will be most important for the continuation of in-person learning.
Going into the school year, Harrist said one of the best things parents can do to protect those at school is to keep your child home when they’re sick.
“That’s always important in any school year, but it’s especially important this year,” Harrist said.
“We do ask parents to follow the school screening guidelines that schools are putting out: each morning, making sure that their children are not having any symptoms, and if they are having symptoms to keep them at home; if possible, call their health care provider to talk about whether they should be tested for COVID-19, and make sure to keep the students out until at least 24 hours after their symptoms have been totally resolved.”
Parents should check in with their kids every morning before school to make sure they’re not feeling ill.
Keeping a safe social distance will also protect students and their peers, so parents should reinforce the importance of social distancing at home. According to Harrist, the easiest way for COVID-19 to spread is when two people are in close contact for more than 15 minutes.
“If we can limit the time that our students are near other students or near teachers, that is going to really help limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and in every other setting, as well,” Harrist said.
For instances where social distancing isn’t possible, Harrist said students and teachers should wear face masks to protect those around them. While getting kids to wear a mask can be a challenge, Harrist said parents can find some with their child’s favorite characters or pick up fun colors they can match to their outfits.
The Today Show compiled a list of companies selling fun face masks for kids, including ones with Disney characters, dinosaurs and adorable patterns, which you can find at tinyurl.com/masksforkids.
“We know that face coverings help make sure that if somebody does have COVID and maybe doesn’t know it because they don’t have symptoms yet, it helps keep them from spreading it to other people,” Harrist said.
Last, but certainly not least, parents should reinforce the idea of regular hand washing with their kids. Harrist said kids should be sure to wash their hands before and after a meal, after classes like gym or art, and any time after they touch a shared surface, whether it’s a basketball or a railing on the stairs.
Kids should use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not possible.
“Washing your hands is a very simple recommendation, but it is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of all types of infections,” Harrist said.
While those four actions are the most important precautions to take, Dr. Harrist also offered some additional steps for concerned parents as their kids begin the school year.
Minimize shared surfaces and spaces
“Sharing is caring” is normally a great lesson to teach kids, but it can be more harmful than helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harrist recommends parents send their kids to school with all the equipment they need – water bottles, pencils, calculators – to minimize unnecessary contact with other students.
COVID-19 can be transmitted on surfaces, as well as from droplets in the air, which is why it’d be beneficial for kids to have their own school supplies and not share them with their peers.
Another step concerned parents can take is driving their kids to school, rather than putting them on the school bus, though Harrist noted there’s nothing wrong with taking the bus. Walking or getting driven to school is simply another way to reduce the number of people and surfaces a child comes in contact with.
Having some kids use different transportation options will also make taking the bus safer for those who choose to do so.
“That, then, reduces the number of kids that are taking the bus and potentially makes spread less likely in that situation,” Harrist said.
Get a flu shot
Getting a flu shot is always important, but it’ll be even more vital for keeping kids in school this year.
“The flu shot does not protect against COVID, but it does protect against the flu, makes it less likely that their kids will get the flu, makes it less likely that they’ll get really sick from the flu and need to miss a lot of school,” Harrist said.
If a COVID-19 case is confirmed in a classroom, kids might be sent home to participate in online learning as they quarantine for two weeks. Given this unprecedented situation, it’s hard to predict just how often kids will have to learn from home.
With a heightened attention on COVID-19 symptoms and an emphasis on staying home when sick, Harrist said the flu shot is an easy way to help keep kids in the classroom.
“We don’t have that vaccine yet for COVID; we’re anxiously awaiting the day when we do, but we do have one for flu, so that is at least one thing that we can do to help prevent the spread of that virus in our schools,” Harrist said.
Set a good example at home
The best way to ensure your kids are following health precautions is to lead by example. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t an effective method to get your kids to wash their hands regularly, wear a mask and social distance.
Rather, Harrist recommends working health precautions into your family’s everyday routine so these practices become the norm, rather than the exception. It’s important for kids to take precautions at school, but the same rings true for parents going to work or the grocery store.
“The best thing that parents can do is incorporate (COVID-19 precautions) into all the activities that they do as a family, and model what we’re asking kids to do in school,” Harrist said. “Not only will it help the kids understand what we’re asking them to do, but it also gives them a chance to practice. Then, the additional benefit is that it will make it less likely than anyone else in the family gets sick with COVID.”