Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Tips to prevent COVID spread at school

Published:Wednesday | January 5, 2022 | 12:06 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Back to school is in full effect. However, what is usually an exciting time is now filled with many unknowns. This is a challenging time for children and parents as not only will they be dealing with the normal influenza and colds, but also with the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite what now obtains, everyone can do their part to help ensure students and staff stay healthy and physically together in school.

• FACE MASKS

Face masks are a simple, proven tool to help stop the spread of the virus to students unable to get the vaccine or to those who may have a condition that puts them at higher risk of getting sick even if they have been vaccinated.

Fully vaccinated people can still become infected with COVID-19 and spread the virus to others. That is one reason why everyone over age two years should keep wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth. As a bonus, masks can help stop the spread of other infections like the common cold or the flu. The mask should fit well and be worn correctly and consistently.

• PHYSICAL DISTANCING

Students, including those who are fully vaccinated, should remain at least three feet apart within classrooms, when possible. In general, people who are not fully vaccinated should maintain physical distance of at least six feet from other people who are not in their household.

When possible, schools should use outdoor and unused spaces for instruction and meals to help with distancing. Activities like exercising, for example, are safer outdoors.

• EXPOSURE AND TESTING

Children appear less likely than adults to have symptoms and severe illness from COVID-19. Even with physical distancing, masking and vaccination, schools need to plan for exposures, especially with new virus variants circulating.

If a student or staff member has close contact with someone known to be infected, they should quarantine as recommended unless they are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be tested five to seven days after exposure, whether they have symptoms or not.

In addition to safety plans, there are other factors that school communities need to address:

• STUDENTS AT HIGHER RISK

If your child has any chronic, high-risk medical conditions, they may need extra accommodations to stay safe. The return to in-person school may have had a greater impact on students with disabilities. Students may still have a hard time transitioning to in-school learning and missed instruction time. Or they may have had less access to school-based services such as occupational, physical and speech-language therapy or mental health support counselling.

• IMMUNISATIONS AND WELLNESS EXAMS

It is important for your child to be up to date on their immunisations, including the flu vaccine, during the pandemic. Routine childhood and adolescent immunisations can be given with COVID-19 vaccines, or in the days before and after to avoid outbreaks of other illnesses that threaten to keep your children at home longer.

• HEALTH AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Many children have experienced the death of a primary or secondary caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic. School should be prepared to support a wide range of mental health needs during the pandemic. This includes recognising signs of anxiety or distress. Students may be grieving loved ones lost to COVID-19, for example, or feeling the stress of lost family income. Schools also can help students with suicidal thoughts or behaviour to get needed support.

The personal impact of the pandemic on schoolteachers and staff also should be recognised.

The benefits of in-person school are much greater than the risks in almost every way. Schools are safe, stimulating, and enriching places to be while parents or guardians are working.

Children and adolescents receive more than just academics. They also learn social and emotional skills, get exercise, and have access to mental health and other support services. For many families, schools are where children get healthy meals, access to the Internet, and other vital services.

Families, schools, and communities can work together to help ensure students can safely remain physically together in school, where they need to be. It means wearing a face mask, staying home when we are sick and doing what we can to keep others safe around us. When everyone does their part, the whole community wins.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com