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Back to School COVID-19 Safety and Resiliency

Our pediatric experts share their best advice for the new school year

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Back to school season can be a stressful time as parents and kids readjust to new routines. However, this year is especially difficult as parents struggle with the additional stress of keeping kids safe at school and activities during COVID-19 and adjusting to the “new” normal. 

At a recent “Because They’re Kids” virtual information session for parents, Sanjeev Vasishtha, MD, with Lehigh Valley Physician Group (LVPG) Pediatrics; Hatim Omar, MD, with LVPG Adolescent Medicine; Thespina Godshalk, with School-Based Behavioral Health; and J. Nathan Hagstrom, MD, Chair, Department of Pediatrics, LVHN, answer questions from parents about keeping their kids safe at school and helping them cope with the added stress of COVID-19. 

Watch the video below (recorded on Aug. 18). Information may have changed since the date of the recording. Updated information is in rest of article below.

Q: What can parents do to help kids preserve their emotional health and bolster their resiliency?

A: Godshalk has four tips for parents to help kids cope with back to school stress in a healthy manner.

  • Acknowledge the impact of the pandemic and the toll it has taken on everyone.
  • Set kids up for success by helping them understand what is within our control. 
  • Maintain connections with your child by keeping open lines of communication. 
  • Involve supportive services (school personnel, physicians, etc.) when you need them.

Q: What’s the most effective way to talk to your teen about their feelings?

A: When it comes to talking to teens, Omar suggests keeping your conversation informal. In fact, he says the best way to get teens to open up and talk is when you are doing an activity together you enjoy. Some examples would be cooking a meal together, practicing a sport or hobby, or even just taking a drive where you can be alone and talk. 

Q: What does LVHN recommend regarding face masks at school?

A: LVHN recommends following Pennsylvania Department of Health face mask guidelines which are in compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. CDC guidance recommends universal masking based on regional transmission data regardless of vaccination status. All counties in our area currently are experiencing “high” spread of COVID-19 transmission.

RESOURCES

CDC school guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html
CDC transmission map: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

Pa. Governor news release: https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/wolf-administration-requires-masking-in-schools-early-learning-and-child-care-settings-to-keep-students-safely-in-classrooms-and-delta-variant-out/

Q: When would face masking not be needed?

A: Face masks will not be needed when the Pennsylvania Department of Health order is lifted, which may be when the transmission rate is low. Low transmission is defined through one of these criteria:

* <10 new cases per 100,000 in the last seven days
* <5% of tests are positive in the last seven days

(See CDC transmission map at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/index.html#county-view)

Q: What mask should my child be wearing?

A: Hagstrom said one of the most important things when it comes to kids and masks is making sure they fit well. Masks should be snug and cover both the nose and mouth. He says that many fabric masks work well. He also stresses the importance of children taking frequent mask breaks and getting fresh air. According to Hagstrom, studies have shown that masks are safe and effective in children over 2. The only time he recommends children don’t wear masks is during exercise or vigorous play.

Q: Are disposable masks better because of material breakdown in cloth masks?

A: According to Hagstrom, cloth masks are effective but says that they will need to be replaced after frequent washing. He says it’s important to look at masks after each wash to make sure the fabric isn’t wearing thin. 

Q: How can parents reassure kids who are concerned about getting others sick?

A: Omar says that concerns kids have about getting other people sick are legitimate and should always be acknowledged. He suggests pointing out safety measures that can help prevent COVID-19 including masking, good hand hygiene, getting vaccinated if they are over the age of 12 and social distancing.

Q: Should parents be more worried about their children this year because of the delta variant?

A: Hagstrom says because the delta variant is more infectious and spreads more easily there is a concern that children will be able to spread the virus more. He says the data so far suggests that while more kids are getting the delta variant because it is more contagious, they aren’t getting sicker. He says that the percentage of children requiring hospitalization due to COVID-19 has not increased with the delta variant.

However, parents should be mindful of a complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is a relatively rare condition that can develop two to six weeks after the COVID-19 infection subsides. Learn more about MIS-C at the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/mis/mis-c.html

Q: How can parents help their kids dispel rumors they are hearing about COVID-19. 

A: One way Omar says parents can help children stay informed about COVID-19 is to look at websites like healthychildren.org, which is run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or CDC.gov. He also says it’s important for children to recognize there is a lot of misinformation, but they can stop the spread of that misinformation.

Watch more seminars at LVHN.org/because-theyre-kids.

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