The days are getting shorter, stores are filled with notebooks, pens, and backpacks, and the debate has begun about how soon is too soon for pumpkin lattes. It’s back-to-school season.
As the 2021-2022 academic year begins, the ongoing prevalence of COVID-19 raises questions and concerns. Should students return to the classroom? Should masks be required? What does the emergence of the new delta variant mean?
We may not be able to answer these questions for you, but we can help you do what’s best for your family – whatever decisions you or your school make.
Keep your family healthy
The initial information around the delta variant of COVID-19 understandably has many parents and teachers on edge as they send children back to school (or return to the classroom themselves). Experts say the delta variant may affect children more than previous strains, though, “it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” as of August 12. Nevertheless, school districts across the country are handling back-to-school according to their local data, and you’ll need to prepare accordingly.
The CDC recommends layering multiple prevention strategies to allow children to safely continue attending school and early care programs in person. These layers include:
- Protecting unvaccinated family members – including those medically ineligible for the vaccine and children under the age of 12 – by wearing a mask, avoiding activities that don’t allow for six feet of distancing, and being aware of your own risk of exposure to the virus while out and about
- Getting vaccinated if you are able
- Wearing a mask indoors, and having any children over the age of 2 wear a mask
- Social distancing by maintaining at least six feet of distance with people who don’t live in your home and avoiding contact with anyone who is sick as much as possible
- Avoiding crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces
- Washing your hands often, or at least using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, especially before eating or preparing food or touching your face, or after using a restroom, leaving a public place, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, handling your mask, caring for someone who is sick, or petting an animal
- Covering your coughs and sneezes (consider using disposable mask liners to avoid having to change your mask every time you cough or sneeze into it)
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces regularly
- Monitoring your health and the health of your family members, paying close attention to possible symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath; follow CDC guidelines if symptoms develop
The CDC further recommends all teachers, school staff, students, and school visitors wear masks “regardless of vaccination status,” given current evidence on the delta variant.
Don’t forget to take precautions against common respiratory illnesses such as the cold and flu, too, especially with experts warning that this year’s cold and flu season could be more difficult than usual. The measures we took against COVID-19 last year decreased the spread of these typical viruses, and recent easing of restrictions have brought them back into the mainstream, says the Cleveland Clinic. Safeguards to take largely mirror those against the coronavirus (hand washing, sanitizing high-touch surfaces, and distancing from those who may be sick). Experts also recommend keeping a mask on-hand for maneuvering crowded spaces, as masks can protect against more than COVID-19.
Consider emotional well-being
Beyond the physical health implications of a global pandemic, your children might also feel anxious about the continued uncertainty going into a new school year. And that’s on top of any normal back-to-school jitters they might otherwise be feeling!
You might be feeling overwhelmed yourself, and that could distract you from the emotions your children – or even you – are experiencing. It can feel empowering to tackle a to-do list and keep moving through tasks to be done, but it might be helpful to take a break and take stock of how everyone is feeling about the change in routine and the unknowns that still lie ahead.
You can also look for signs of stress in your children, such as:
- Unusual changes in mood
- Changes in behavior, especially in personal connection and relationships
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Trouble sleeping
- Unexplained changes in appetite or weight
- Problems concentrating or remembering
If your children are younger, stress might look like:
- Fussiness and irritability
- Unexplained changes in sleep patterns
- Separation anxiety or increased clinginess
- Hiding or increased tantrums
- Bedwetting after having been potty trained
If you have any concerns, contact your pediatrician for advice.
Whatever the new school year looks like for your family, look for ways to bring in that back-to-school excitement. It’s a new year, a fresh start. Remember that parents set the tone at home, and your children will likely look to you to help gauge how to feel, at least to some extent.
There are plenty of opportunities to bring some normalcy and levity to back-to-school activities. Here are a few ideas:
- Hype up back-to-school shopping! Whether you venture out to the store or stick to online retailers, emphasize options for individuality (a favorite character on a folder, a new set of colored pens, favorite colors for notebooks, etc.).
- Ask your kids what they’re excited about. Did they miss seeing friends in-person? Are they using a locker for the first time? Does their teacher have a good reputation for making learning fun?
- Make masks fun by finding unique patterns or styles that allow your kids to express their personalities. Use disposable mask liners to prolong the life of reusable masks.
- Have fun refreshing a home desk or “homework station” to make a distinction from last year’s distance learning or prepare for a new round, if that’s the plan for your district. Make the space comfortable and conducive to getting work done while still reflecting your children’s unique styles and preferences.
- If school hasn’t started yet in your area, plan a fun “last hurrah” for the summer to take everyone’s minds off of stressors and help everyone feel refreshed for the new year.
This back-to-school season might look and feel a little different than most, but with a few precautions and a little extra thought, you can keep your family healthy, happy, and maybe even excited about the possibilities of the year ahead.
Axios: COVID cases in kids are rising just as schools are coming back
American Academy of Pediatrics: Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report
District Administration: School closings tracker: Where districts are shutting down again due to COVID-19 outbreaks
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Know What to Expect at Your Child’s K-12 School or Early Care and Education Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How to Protect Yourself & Others
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Families with Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Members
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Symptoms of COVID-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What to Do If You Are Sick
CNBC: Health experts are anxious to prevent a ‘catastrophic’ winter flu season
Cleveland Clinic: Why Does Everyone Seem to Have a Cold Right Now?
HealthyChildren.org, from the American Academy of Pediatrics: Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support