Coronavirus (COVID-19): Staying Safe in School During the Pandemic
Should Kids Have In-Person School During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Education during the COVID-19 pandemic is complicated. Last year some schools stayed open. Others used a hybrid model with a mix of in-person and remote learning. Many kids stayed home full-time and attended classes virtually. Some key things became clear as the year went on:
- Going to school in-person is how kids learn best.
- Schools are more than a place for kids to learn. They're also safe places to be while their parents are working, and they support kids' physical, mental, social, and emotional health.
- With proper safety measures, schools can limit the spread of the virus.
So, experts recommend that kids go back to in-person school this year, as long as safety steps are taken. But parents may have some concerns because the pandemic isn't over yet and newer variants of the virus have been more contagious than the original one.
Fortunately, public health guidelines can help children and teachers stay safe and healthy in school.
What Safety Steps Can Help?
No safety measure is 100% effective. But these steps done together offer many layers of protection:
- Vaccination: The COVID-19 vaccines are proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death. They are safe and effective, and are recommended for kids 5 and older and all adults.
- Wearing masks: The CDC recommends that kids 2 and older and all adults wear masks when inside schools and school buses, whether or not they are vaccinated. People who are not vaccinated should also wear masks when outdoors in a crowded area. The mask should fit snugly and cover the nose and mouth.
- Physical distancing: Kids should try to stay at least 3 feet from others when in school. For some people (such as teachers and staff) or in some settings (like while eating or when in auditoriums), staying 6 feet apart is safer.
- Keeping clean: Washing hands well and often with soap and water or using hand sanitizer is always a good idea. So is covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of an elbow when not wearing a mask.
- Testing, contact tracing, and staying home when necessary:
- For kids who feel sick: Children who have a fever or any other signs of illness should stay home until they feel better. Ask the doctor if your child needs a COVID-19 test. Kids who test positive for the coronavirus should isolate at home according to public health guidelines.
- For kids who feel well but have been exposed to an infected person: Schools will work with local health departments to identify all people who were in close contact with an infected person. All close contacts should get tested according to public health guidelines. Fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine but should wear masks indoors, both in school and other settings. If they are not fully vaccinated, they should quarantine at home according to public health guidelines.
- For kids who feel well and have no known exposure: Some schools will offer screening to test healthy people regularly for the virus. Screening means testing people who feel healthy and have no known exposure to the virus, to see if they have been infected without realizing it. This important safety measure lets schools identify outbreaks and take steps to stop the spread as early as possible.
What Else Are Schools Doing?
To reduce the spread of germs, schools might:
- Hold classes and activities outside as much as possible.
- Have teachers change rooms rather than kids.
- Have meals in the classroom, or outdoors, instead of the cafeteria.
- Mark floors to show students where to stand and walk.
- Have students ride the bus in assigned seats that are distanced apart.
The coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread much from contaminated surfaces. But schools will still clean and disinfect common areas and things that get touched a lot, like bathroom handles and doorknobs.
Some schools may limit class sizes, stagger schedules, or place students in cohorts. A cohort is a group of students and teachers who stay together throughout the school day.
Good ventilation helps to clear the air of virus particles. To help air flow, schools can keep doors and windows open when weather and air quality are good, and use well-placed fans.
What if My Child or Family Member Is in a High-Risk Group?
Some people are more likely to get very sick from coronavirus, such as those with some kinds of health problems and adults 65 or older. Babies younger than 12 months old might get sicker from coronavirus than older kids.
If your child has a health problem or lives with someone in a high-risk group, weigh the risk of your child bringing germs home from school. Some families may opt for home-schooling or distance learning if it is available. Your doctor can help you decide. Most important, all family members who can get the COVID-19 vaccine should do so.
What Else Should I Know?
It’s hard to avoid all risks, but taking these steps can help keep families healthy:
- Make meals at home instead of eating out.
- If dining out, get take-out or eat outside.
- Have movie nights at home instead of in a theater.
- Send vaccinated and masked family members to do the shopping.
- Limit your child’s exposure to unvaccinated people or crowds as much as possible.
- Be sure your kids are up to date on all vaccines.
- Get the flu shot (for people 6 months of age and older).