Back-to-school safety tips for children in the pandemic era

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FILE – In this May 18, 2021 file photo, fifth graders wearing face masks are seated at proper social distancing during a music class at the Milton Elementary School in Rye, N.Y. As the nation closes out a school year marred by the pandemic, some states are now starting to release new standardized test scores that offer an early glimpse at just how far students have fallen behind — with some states reporting that the turbulent year has reversed years of progress across every academic subject. New York, Georgia and some other states pushed to cancel testing for a second year so schools could focus on classroom learning. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)


UTAH (ABC4) – Now that back-to-school season is here, what can parents do to ensure kids are having the best experience while staying safe from COVID-19?

As students get ready to head into the classroom, there are easy ways to ensure they stay safe and healthy—both mentally and physically. Currently, only children over 12 are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC.

So what can parents with elementary-aged children do to protect their kids?

Most importantly, if your child is over the age of 12, make a plan to get vaccinated before the school year begins, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

You can find out the best location to receive a vaccine by checking Utah’s Health Department site or by contacting your local healthcare provider. Most recently, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The easiest and most important step to protecting your child during in-person classroom learning is wearing a mask, according to the CDC.

As Utah has seen a spike in positive COVID-19 cases this month, Dr. Angela Dunn, the executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, says, “It’s so important to emphasize that 100% of our kids under the age of 12 are unvaccinated, and therefore susceptible to getting COVID. The best way for you to protect your family, your friends, your neighbors, your kids, is for you to get vaccinated.”

Another easy way to protect your child’s health is by encouraging good handwashing and respiratory etiquette. Washing your hands with soap under warm water for at least 20 seconds can help stop germ-spreading, says the CDC.

An easy way to help your child practice this is by encouraging them to sing the alphabet song while washing their hands and finishing when the song is over. If hand washing isn’t possible, using hand sanitizer can be effective in mitigating germs.

Mentally, it’s important children get the resources they need to adjust to pandemic-era learning. With a year of learning loss for many students, it is important to know where your child lands academically and socially and convey any needs your child may require with their new school/teacher, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“The last 18 months have brought tremendous challenges to students, families, educators, and communities, which may result in new or different emotions and experiences in your child’s return to school,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. “From the loss of loved ones, to the responsibility of taking care of younger siblings or sick family members, to adjusting to online or hybrid learning, to missing face-to-face contact with peers and educators in classrooms and schools, these challenges can result in changes in your child’s academic, behavioral, or mental health needs.”

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