#childsafety | Sending your kids back to the classroom? Here’s how experts advise keeping them safe.

With back-to-school season upon us, some kids across the country have already started returning to classes in person. But with a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association finding that more than 97,000 American kids tested positive for the coronavirus during the last two weeks of July alone — a 40 percent uptick from the previous two weeks — many parents are likely feeling some anxiety about their children returning to in-person learning, wondering how to keep them safe.

Wanting to gather some advice on how parents can best achieve this, Yahoo Life reached out to four medical experts — Dr. Uché Blackstock, emergency medicine physician and chief executive officer of Advancing Health Equity; Dr. Dara Kass, emergency medical doctor and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University School of Medicine; Dr. Kavita Patel, primary care physician and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Dr. Purvi Parikh, pediatric allergy and infectious diseases specialist at New York University Langone Health. Here’s what they had to say.

Wearing masks: What’s a good way to teach kids how to safely put their own masks on and off?

Patel: “You want to teach children to try to put it on one loop at a time and not fuss with it. And it should cover your nose and mouth. Try to avoid doing things like touching …the part of the mask that’s covering your nose and mouth. You want to keep [that] free from as much contact as possible. You just want to tell kids to take them off the same way you put [masks] on — take it off one loop at a time.”

Kass: “The most important thing with children and mask wearing is practice. They need to put it on, keep it on and take it off after they’ve washed their hands in a safe environment.”

Parikh: “It’s very easy to teach children. Any kid child over the age of 2 should know how to put it on. Usually, we’ll advise children not to remove masks until after they’ve already come home, because it’s very important that they keep the mask on when they’re around other people and [in] public, especially places like school.”

Riding the school bus: What safety precautions should be taken?

Blackstock: “The school bus is an area where you definitely have to discuss safety with the kids, because it’s an enclosed area. School buses should be maintaining the same rules as other indoor spaces, so that children should really try to stay as far apart from each other. Make sure to still keep their masks on [and] keep their hands to themselves. There should be hand sanitizer available for them as well, and also don’t touch any surfaces.”

Parikh: “Tell your child, ‘Keep your mask on the whole time that you’re on the school bus, make sure it stays over your nose and mouth.’ Stay far apart — don’t sit right next to your best friend or [have] multiple kids in one [row]. That might be a little bit difficult for younger kids, but definitely for older kids, it’s our job to educate them on what safe social distancing is.”

Patel: “At a minimum, explain to them that as soon as they get off the bus, they need to also wash their hands and avoid touching anyone else, including their own face. Some parents are giving their children those little pocket sanitizers so that they can use it. If you think that you can hook it onto their backpack and they’ll learn how to use it, that’s also good.”

Masks and hand sanitizer are key to school-bus safety this fall, say experts. (Photo: Getty Images)

Masks and hand sanitizer are key to school-bus safety this fall, say experts. (Photo: Getty Images)

Keeping hands clean: How often should kids wash their hands or use sanitizer while in school?

Parikh: “In terms of the frequency of hand washing and hand sanitation, more is always better. There’s no magic rule, but any time that they’re leaving classrooms, it’s a good idea to either quickly sanitize or wash your hands. Wash your hands before you start eating and when you’re done, because again, you’re going to be touching your face frequently and touching other surfaces.”

Patel: “There is no such thing as too much hand washing or hand hygiene. Absolutely at a minimum, any time they’re… moving from one place to another or getting off of a bus or reaching for something out of a cabinet or a locker [they should clean their hands]. Remember the proper way to wash hands… is they have to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ two times — at least 20 seconds of hand washing.”

Kass: “Hand sanitizer is a great substitute for hand washing multiple times a day, but you want kids washing their hands at least two to three times a day during the school day.”

Changing outfits: Should kids take off their clothes as soon as they come home from school?

Blackstock: “That probably is a good idea. If we’re thinking about trying to mitigate the spread of the virus, and we do know the virus can attach itself to clothing, I think what I’ll do is I’ll have my kids totally disrobe and then head for the bath when they come home from school to be safe.”

Parikh: “We advise keeping shoes outside of the house if possible. Remove your clothing [and] change into other clothing.”

Bathing after school: Should they take a shower right when they get home?

Kass: “Unlike hospital workers, children, when they go to school, are probably not at risk for contamination. And so I don’t really think it’s necessary for children to decontaminate when they get home. I think it’s important for them to wash their hands and maybe even their face and maybe want to change their clothes because they are in a different environment. But what a lot of doctors and nurses do, where they come home, strip down and shower, I just don’t think that’s necessary for children.”

Patel: “Unless there’s somebody that has a positive case in the class or there’s some high risk exposure, I don’t think that that’s necessary. Unlike me, who’s in a clinic setting really close to people who are actively coughing on me, I don’t see any reason to do that [bathing after school] for children of school age. Washing their hands and being pretty vigilant about not touching their face or wearing masks is incredibly important.”

Mask washing: How often do kids’ fabric masks need to be laundered?

Parikh: “We do recommend daily or frequent washing of masks, especially if they’re really reusable masks. The last thing you want to do is put a mask that’s dirty back on your face the next day. ”

Patel: “Try to make sure you wash the mask in warm, soapy water at least every day, and have a bunch of masks that your kids like, so that they can actually wear them and get excited to wear them. And model it, so that you show them how to put it on and off in a healthy way. Every time you take off a mask, you should put on a new clean one.”

Kass: “Children in schools should be wearing cloth masks — masks that are fun and comfortable and really what they’re going to be able to keep on. Get your kids a mask for every day of the week — five masks, five days. You wash them on the weekends and you start over again.”

Backpacks: Should you clean them daily?

Parikh: “The backpack doesn’t necessarily have to be cleaned daily. If you want, you’re welcome to wipe down the outside of it or spray it with Lysol. Don’t put anything else inside of your backpack that you’re not taking with you from home. The child’s backpack should include a mask, a backup mask in case something happens to the mask that they’re currently wearing to school, [and] hand sanitizers.”

Patel: “If you have a child and you know they’re not really enforcing the hand hygiene or they’re just not willing to wash their hands as much, nobody would blame you for taking like a bleach wipe and just wiping the zippers and the parts that the child touches. But I would not feel like you have to worry that a child is going to catch the coronavirus because it’s sitting on their backpack.”

Blackstock: “I probably will not be cleaning my children’s backpack daily, but what I probably will do is just make sure they don’t bring the backpack all the way into the house. That we’ll have a certain area by the door where we keep their bags or any other materials that could be contaminated at school.”

Kass: “I just don’t think it’s realistic to expect that we’re going to wash down backpacks every single day, but probably once a week is a pretty good idea.”

COVID-19 symptoms: What’s a good way for parents to talk to their kids about reporting feeling sick?

Kass: “It’s really, really important that children feel empowered to tell their parents how they’re feeling… So if a child isn’t feeling well — if they have a headache or a cough, maybe they feel like they’re getting a fever — they need to be able to go to their parent and say, ‘I don’t feel well today,’ and work together on deciding whether or not they can go to school. Kids are actually really good at telling you how they feel. Sometimes we just need to listen.”

Patel: “You want [younger kids] to understand that not only is it okay to tell Mommy or Daddy if you’re having the following symptoms, but maybe Mommy and Daddy are going to ask you every day… And just make it like a checklist. ‘We’re going to be checking almost every day with you to see how you’re feeling and you should just let us know.’ Keep it incredibly simple. Take the emotion out of it and just make it easy for the child to be able to talk to you about it.”

Parikh: “Educate your children on what those symptoms are. So fever, chills, cough, stomachache, stuffy nose. And then let them know that if they’re feeling any of it to let their parents know right away, let their teachers know right away [and] the school nurse, so… it can be addressed and it can limit the spread.”

Video produced by Nurys Castillo

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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