Health Experts Weigh in on the Return to School

While the issue of mask mandates winds its way through the courts, parents and students are gearing up to return to school in a year that is so far promising to be just as turbulent as the last two years. 

How do you prepare for that?

We asked Philip Ewing, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at Medical City Children’s Hospital what parents should know before they send their children back to school, and it boiled down to three key things: keeping your child home when they feel sick, vaccinations for everyone who can, and encouraging prevention measures like masking and good hand hygiene practices.

“The most important thing parents can do to keep their kids safe is make sure to limit potential COVID-19 exposures,” Ewing said. “Keep your kids home from school and away from others if they are not feeling well. Although it’s less likely that children will be severely affected by the virus, we are seeing increases in pediatric COVID-19 cases nationwide and in North Texas.”

Vaccinations, he said, can help protect not only the person immunized but also the people who can’t get vaccinated yet.

“If they are 12 or older, consider vaccinating your child against COVID-19 because this vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in protecting against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” he said. “Additionally, it’s important that children should be surrounded by vaccinated people such as parents and teachers which provides a sort of shield to further protect them. 

“Kids are important contributors to the herd immunity that protects at-risk members in the community with preexisting conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Ewing also said parents should encourage children to wear a mask, “particularly in indoor settings.”

Children’s Health has also issued back-to-school guidance, and it stresses the importance of masking. 

“With the increased spread of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant, it’s important for all students, even those who are fully vaccinated, to wear a mask inside school,” the hospital’s guidance said. “Wearing a mask can help protect yourself as well as others, especially those who cannot be vaccinated or have weakened immune systems.”

Students should even break backup masks in case the one they are wearing because dirty or damaged.

The hospital said parents can help their children become comfortable with masks by explaining why they are important, normalizing them through play, providing fun and colorful mask options with a comfortable and good fit, asking them to help make sure the whole family has their masks when leaving the house, practicing wearing them, and modeling good mask behavior themselves.

“One of the best ways to encourage your child to wear a face mask is to wear one yourself,” the hospital said.

Ewing said that other hygiene practices are important as well.

“Make sure they are washing their hands frequently or using hand sanitizer,” he said. “These measures also protect against influenza and RSV, both of which were at twenty-year lows last winter.”

Ewing also said this is the time for parents to scope out virtual health and rapid testing options in case their child does feel ill. 

“This is a good time to become familiar with your school’s policy for absenteeism and their return to school criteria,” he added.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, former Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy.

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