What should parents and pediatricians be thinking about as we head back to school?
It’s hard to believe this is the fourth back-to-school season with COVID-19. However, things have considerably changed since the fall of 2020. Safe and effective vaccinations have been developed and deployed, leading to at least 70% of the U.S. population being fully or partially vaccinated. But vaccination rates are lower among children ages 5-11 – according to KFF, less than half of parents of kids in that age range said their child had been vaccinated.
Image source: KFF
One of the most effective measures to avoid serious illness from COVID-19 and the flu this fall is to get kids vaccinated. Parents who are expecting a child should also be aware that a new RSV vaccine is available for the third trimester of pregnancy. These are important issues that can be addressed in a conversation with the family pediatrician during the fall and winter.
What should teachers and school administrators be considering as we head back to school?
We have continued to learn with each season how to best improve the school environment to allow for optimal learning in the classroom. Enhancing ventilation and filtration in schools has been supported by CDC initiatives and guidance, federal relief funding and academic programs such as the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Schools should consider these practices as ways to build a healthy environment for students, and this is particularly important each winter as respiratory viruses are often common in school-age children.
School staff can also model best practices for learners by being up-to-date on flu and COVID vaccinations, modeling hand hygiene and considering using other infection prevention tools like masking. If masks are used, transparent masks may make communication easier to understand (Thibodeau, July 2021).
School administrators should also stay up-to-date with flu and COVID-19 risk in the area and can change recommended measures in the school environment, as needed, if numbers are rising in the community.