Intermountain Healthcare

COVID-19: Heading Back to School Safely


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 08/24/2020 --School is an important part of children's learning and development. In addition to reading, writing, and math, kids also learn valuable social and emotional skills. Schools are a place for kids to access the internet for learning and a get a healthy midday meal. They also provide safe, supportive, and supervised spaces for children while parents and caretakers are at work.

Because of these reasons, many schools are working to safely reopen during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Intermountain Healthcare's Primary Children's Hospital wants parents to feel empowered with tools and resources to help students and teachers during this troubling time.

Parents might ask "Is it safe to send my child to school?" Primary Children's experts say there isn't a simple "yes" or "no" answer to this question.

Coronavirus spreads from person-to-person contact so there is a chance that children could get or spread the virus while at school. There are ways to lower the chances of getting COVID-19, however, it's up to parents or caretakers to understand the risks and to decide if the benefits of in-person schooling are greater than the risks.

Risk is the possibility that something will go wrong. Individuals can use the attached table to help identify some areas of risk. If several answers fall in the "Higher Risk" column, parents or caregivers may want to consider home-school until the risks improve or can be better managed.

Primary Children's caregivers suggest reinforcing these four key behaviors to prepare students to go back to school safely:

1. Wear a mask while in school and around others.
2. Staying six feet away from others if possible.
3. Wash hands often.
4. Stay home when sick. Children should stay home if they have a fever of 100.4° F (38.0° C) or higher, or have any symptoms of COVID-19.

To date, school-aged children and adolescents seem less likely to have symptoms or become seriously ill from COVID-19. While this is good for children, it's important to remember that children with COVID-19 can become very ill. In addition to possible flu-like symptoms, some children develop MIS-C or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. This is a new and serious health condition related to COVID-19.

Children with COVID-19 can also unknowingly spread the infection to parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, and others.

If someone in close contact with a child becomes sick with COVID-19, Primary Children's caregivers suggest the child should be quarantined for 14 days. If a child has a confirmed case of COVID-19, they must self-isolate. Self-isolation means to stay home and avoid others. During self-isolation, individuals should only leave home to get medical care.

Self-isolation can end after at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medicines and symptoms have improved.

Also, anyone living with the child will also have to quarantine. The quarantine ends 14 days after the last contact with the person while they were sick. For a parent caring for a child with COVID-19, this could mean having to quarantine for three to four weeks or longer.

If too many people become sick with COVID-19 at the same time, a class or event an entire school may have to close for in-person teaching.

Primary Children's experts say the best way to keep students (and everyone) safe at this time is to wear a mask. Wearing a mask is the simplest and most effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus. Combining mask-wearing with physical distancing and good handwashing practices will help protect everyone and help ensure that schools remains open.

While the topic of mask-wearing can be a sensitive subject, more and more research shows that wearing a mask prevents the spread of COVID-19. To be effective, all students, teachers, staff, and visitors need to wear masks while at school.

Wearing a mask may be a new experience for children. Primary's offers the following tips to help students adjust:

- Explain the need for mask wearing in age-appropriate terms to children.
- Make mask wearing fun. Let children participate in choosing, making, or decorating masks.
- Model mask wearing by letting children see parents wearing masks.
- Maintain a positive attitude around mask-wearing.
- Make sure the mask fits well. It should cover the nose and mouth and not be too loose or tight.
- Have extra masks available just in case the mask becomes lost or dirty. Remember to wash the mask after each day's use.

If children are nervous about wearing a mask or face covering, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends practicing at home before children head back to school. Primary Children's offer a few ideas to help masks or face coverings seem less scary:

- Look in the mirror with the face coverings on and talk about it.
- Put a cloth face covering on a favorite stuffed animal.
- Decorate maks so they're more personalized and fun.
- Show children pictures of other children wearing them.
- Draw one on the child's favorite book character.

Masks are safe for children (or anyone) to wear all day. Masks do not lower the ability to breathe in air (oxygen) or breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2). These molecules easily pass through masks. Healthcare providers have worn masks for years, often for long stretches of time, without any problems.

Primary infectious disease experts explain that masks function as a filter. When a person breathes, speaks, coughs, or sneezes, small droplets of fluid leave the mouth and nose. These droplets carry the COVID-19 virus away from the body. Masks help trap these droplets or prevent them from traveling as far as they would otherwise. With less virus in the air or environment, it is less likely for people to become infected or spread the infection.

Children younger than two should not wear masks. Other medical exemptions for mask-wearing are rare. Medical exemptions are sometimes given to children with special healthcare needs, such as those with autism or other severe developmental, thinking, or breathing problems.

Primary experts say these children are often more vulnerable to serious health problems and stress the importance that others around them wear a mask to help protect the child from getting COVID-19.

If a parent or caregiver does become concerned a child has contracted COVID-19, Primary Children's experts suggest calling the child's doctor if they have any symptoms:

- Fever of 100.4° F (38.0° C) or higher
- Cough
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue
- Muscle or body aches
- Headache
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea
- Symptoms can range from mild to severe and appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

If anyone has any of the following, experts encourage individuals to get emergency medical care immediately:

- Trouble breathing
- Bluish coloring around the lips and face
- Ongoing pressure or pain in the chest
- Signs of confusion
- Trouble waking up or staying awake

Additional Resources
COVID-19: Heading back to school safely (printer friendly PDF)


About Primary Children's Hospital
Primary Children's Hospital is part of Intermountain Healthcare, a not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, 215 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,500 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. For more than 95 years, Primary's have served over 1 million children living in a 400,000 square-mile service area including Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Alaska. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. Advice given by Intermountain Healthcare experts are meant to help empower individuals to protect themselves, their families, and the community.