When you’re a parent, September means one thing: Back to school. Under normal circumstances, those three words would typically be cause for celebration (relatively speaking — we know you love your kids) after a summer of pool parties, playdates and endless video games.
Sadly, however, these are not normal times.
With COVID still going strong, heading back to (physical) school means something a little bit different this year: Keeping everyone healthy and safe. And to do that, precautions need to be taken. “Staying safe comes down to one thing: Managing risk,” explains microbiologist and immunologist Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro. “It’s quite easy to learn and if you are trained properly, it should be an easy task to perform.”
You might be wondering how that translates to teaching kids how to manage their risk, but Tetro says that parents can help their kids by pointing out risks on a day-to-day basis and help them develop good habits. “Like any good habit, it’s all about practice. Making sure they do the same things at home that they’ll do at school will help,” Tetro explains. “Hand-washing and good hand hygiene is fairly easy. As for masks, try using them when doing homework or watching television/being on social media. If you can get used to having them on even when they don’t necessarily need them, the act will become more natural for those times when they do.”
But healthy hygiene is also about teaching kids self-awareness. Tetro recommends that children learn and use “The ABCs of respiratory virus protection,” not only for COVID but also for colds and flu:
- A is for Airway: Protect your nose and mouth with a face covering.
- B is for Bubble: Make sure you stick to your assigned/chosen group at all times.
- C is for Cohorts: Be sure to know who is in your group and when they are not feeling well.
“Facemasks and hand-hygiene are great for taking care of their airway,” Tetro says, “but children need to learn about the environment around them and how they can ensure they minimize the potential for spread [that can happen] by moving out of their bubble and mixing cohorts.”
Thankfully, Tetro says that much of what researchers have learned about keeping children safe at school (and all of us in general) comes down to forming these new habits, and not physically disinfecting them every afternoon when they step through the door. “Having worked with surface survival of pathogens in the past, I can tell you [and research shows] that the greatest risk of surface transmission comes from hard, non-porous surfaces like plastic, glass and steel, and that the risk goes down about 90 percent after a droplet has dried. So, the risk of a child bringing COVID home on a uniform or a backpack, for example, is minimal.”
Any parent would be entirely within their rights to be nervous about their kids going back to school — heck, we worry about them even when they’re in the next room over. But with some good habits and knowledge around where risks lie and how to protect against them, you can go a long way towards making sure they stay safe.