With COVID-19 still sweeping the entire world, it’s more important than ever for people to do what they can to try to stay safe from the virus. As fall quickly approaches, the primary concern at the top of a lot of people’s minds is what to do when school is back in session. Whether you’re a parent with kids heading back to primary school or a college student going back to campus, there are plenty of precautions you and your children can take to stay safe.
The Centers for Disease Control has stated the importance of wearing a mask whenever you’re outside or around people and to maintain distance so you’re not transmitting any germs. This holds true for everyone everywhere, including going back to school. It can be hard to know what else you can do when you’re sending your children into a school building for eight hours or going back to live in a dorm with other people.
We spoke with a doctor for tips on what everyone can do to keep students safe during COVID-19 this school year, and these are the recommendations.
Continue COVID-19 best practices no matter where you are
When many schools shut down in the spring, students all over the world came home and took up e-learning while practicing what the World Health Organization and the CDC recommended to slow the spread of the virus: wash hands frequently, social distance, wear masks, and be mindful of any symptoms. As students head back to school, it’s important to continue doing those things.
For parents sending their children back to school all day, make sure you’ve shared with them how important it is to continue to do these things even in school. The WHO put together a guide for schools with recommendations on what the teachers can do and what parents can do from home. The WHO has recommended that schools move desks a proper distance apart and asked that teachers enforce proper handwashing throughout the day.
The CDC has created similar guidelines for schools with resources for parents and teachers. Many schools are asking students to wear masks all day and refrain from using drinking fountains and sharing food with friends. The CDC also stresses the importance of recognizing COVID-19 symptoms so you can keep your children home in case they’re getting sick.
High school and college students need to be extra careful with sanitizing
For high school and college students heading back to campus, it’s important to be extremely cautious with sanitizing, according to Dr. Robert Quigley, Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director of International SOS and MedAire. “It is important to remember that a large amount of those who become infected, particularly in this age group, with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms, so it is imperative to follow safety guidelines like strict hand-sanitation/hand-washing, mask-wearing, avoiding touching your face, and social distancing at all times.”
It’s easy to forget some of these best practices when you’re busy with classes or around friends, and it’s easy to become lax when you don’t feel sick, but like Dr. Quigley pointed out, you can have the virus and not show symptoms, which means you can still transmit the virus to someone else.
Sanitization that college students need to keep in mind, also, is with their masks, which they should be wearing whenever they leave their dorms or are around people. Though many college students may not have easy access to a washer and dryer, there are still ways to follow best practices. Dr. Quigley recommends making sure you have ample disposable masks. Keep a collection of them around at all times and even throw a few in each backpack or purse you use on campus so that you’re never without one. If you’re wearing a cloth mask, you can still follow CDC guidelines for washing in the sink with water and soap. Fabric masks are fine to air dry, so get in the habit of washing these after every time you wear them.
Be aware of what the schools are doing
Every school should have a plan in place for the upcoming school year. It can vary based on your location, so it’s important to know what your town or campus is doing so you can provide support from home if you’re a parent or stay in line if you’re a college student. Ask plenty of questions of the school and teachers but also be patient. This is a trying time in the world and everyone — parents, students, teachers, administrators — is putting forth a great effort to ensure that students are still getting their education while staying as safe as possible.
If you’re a parent of younger students heading back to school who aren’t quite old enough to really grasp what’s happening, try to explain why school is different this year in a way that makes sense to them. That means you need to be very aware of what’s happening inside the school. If certain classes or activities are canceled, let your kids know that it’s for safety. If they question the masks, let them know it’s for safety. This is an unprecedented time and it takes teamwork among the parents, students, and schools to keep everyone safe.
In the end, the best you can do as a parent is make sure you’re staying on top of CDC and WHO guidelines for safety so you can encourage your children to do the same. Likewise for college students heading back to campus — keep wearing masks, keep social distancing, and keep washing everything. If everyone continues to do their part, it can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep everyone safe in school and in general.