Parents, caregivers, and educators have had vastly different experiences with COVID protocols over the course of the pandemic. With the 2022-23 school year approaching and Omicron sub-variants causing an increase in COVID cases, there are measures parents can take to limit exposure and mitigate the chances of children contracting the virus. Here are tips on how to navigate the upcoming school year.
Get your child vaccinated. Getting children vaccinated is one of the most critical steps in preventing the worst outcomes of COVID, even from Omicron and its sub-variants. Vaccines are available for everyone six months or older.
“It’s been amazing that we have now been able to fully vaccinate the entire family,” said Dr. Karen Smith, family medicine and Cobb Institute physician, during a recent Stay Well Community Health Fair and Vaccine Event in Raleigh, N.C. “Again, we reassure families that vaccinations are here to give your child a chance to get beyond those diseases that years ago took the lives of children. Now you have the opportunity to protect your child from COVID. Let’s protect the whole family.”
Mask up. Masks continue to add another layer of protection, especially in indoor spaces like schools and day care centers. Dr. Samira Brown, pediatrician, co-founder of Little Lives PPE, and Cobb Institute physician, shared that during the first Omicron surge in January 2022, when children were returning to the classroom, over a million children tested positive for COVID in a single week, which is the highest rate of pediatric cases to date. Parents may consider masking their children even when masks are optional.
“With the return to school upon us, we want to make sure families are well prepared,” said Dr. Brown. “We recommend when rates are up in your community, to use a combination of preventative methods including vaccination, masking, hand washing, social distancing when possible, avoiding crowded and public spaces, maximizing ventilation when you are indoors and testing/isolating when symptoms develop, or an exposure has occurred.”
Dr. Brown noted that masks are not safe for children under two years old. But for children over the age of two, parents should consider choosing a mask that has a snug fit and the ability to filter out small viral particles.
Encourage children to wash their hands. Prevent the spread of germs by encouraging your child to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water after touching a mask and objects and surfaces that are frequently touched by other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
Monitor your child for symptoms. COVID symptoms are similar for both adults and children, which can include coughing, fever or chills, shortness of breath, sore throat, and body aches. If your child is showing symptoms, keep them home from school and notify your pediatrician.
To find a vaccine site, search <vaccines.gov>, text your ZIP code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.