Starting School Healthy in a Pandemic

“Do I have to wear a mask all day?”
My 12-year-old daughter asked me this question when we recently discussed going back to school. This question, along with many others, are being asked by kids since people are still being infected by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
I want to make sure my daughter is healthy and ready for school, so I turned to a medical expert to learn more about masks, immunizations and check-ups before returning to school.
 Wearing Masks
While most Bay Area schools plan to start school online, when students do return in person, there’s a good chance they will be required to wear masks. 
Dr. Sumana Reddy, a pediatrician at Acacia Family Medical Group in Salinas says, “I’m encouraging every parent to have their child wear a mask all day at least one day a week at home to get used to wearing it. I also suggest offering their kids incentives and rewards for not touching their face.” 
“There’s no substitute for just getting used to it on the face,” she says of masks.
Reddy recommends when kids go back to school that they use two cloth masks since they will need to remove the mask at lunchtime. Reddy explains that removing the mask during lunch and placing it on a surface could potentially transfer the virus onto the mask and then infect your child.
“Drop the mask into your child’s lunch bag and tell them to switch to a new clean one after eating,” she says.
  
“Although any mask is better than none, a tight-weave cotton in layers is better than a single layer of jersey or similar stretch materials. Also, the nose should have a metal bridge piece to minimize airflow,” says Reddy. If your child has trouble wearing a mask, she suggests using a face shield. 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests that everyone over the age of 2 wears a cloth face mask. “Cloth face-coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face-covering coughs, sneezes, talks or raises their voice,” the CDC says.
Check-Ups or Well Visits
If your child has not already had their yearly check-up, it is important to schedule one so that they can remain healthy throughout the school year. During this visit, you and your child can also discuss any mental health concerns.
Dr. Damon Korb, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician in Los Gatos and author of Raising an Organized Child, says, “Think of going back to school the same way that you would have any year,” but adds that a healthy start is even more important than usual.  “We do not want to miss a potential problem to avoid another. Children should get all of their normal well child visits and immunizations.”
 Telehealth Check-In
Most schools closed in the spring until the end of the school year. Kids who are going back to school either remotely or in-person are likely to experience anxiety about this transition.
“I recommend that all kids do a telehealth check-in with their pediatrician before going back to school to discuss the transition. Often parents think their kid is fine, but you want to have a chance to talk about stress and anxiety,” says Reddy.
During this check-in, you can also make sure that your vaccines are up to date or talk about any other mental health concerns. 
 Immunizations and Flu Shots
Korb recommends referring to the immunization schedule recommended by the CDC to make sure your child is up to date.
Reddy adds that everyone should make sure that they get a yearly flu shot. Flu shots are normally available starting in September. 
“Last year, 500 children died of the flu. It’s very important to get your flu shot,” Reddy says. 
Korb agrees: “This year, the flu shot is even more important. We want to reduce the common cold because when noses start running, we all touch our faces. That is a recipe for disaster with COVID-19. Getting the flu shot may actually reduce the likelihood of catching and spreading COVID.”
Reddy explains that most doctors are concerned about people being infected with the combination of COVID and the flu virus that will be circulating this fall. “The more families that get the flu vaccine, the better it will be for everyone,” she says.
Unlike most vaccines, you need to get the flu shot yearly for it to be effective since the strain of flu often changes.
If you don’t have insurance, vaccines can be provided for free by doctors through the federally funded Vaccines For Children program. Vaccines are available at private physicians’ offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers. 
And if you do have insurance, there should not be a co-pay for receiving the flu vaccine.
The Affordable Care Act requires private insurance companies to pay in full for vaccines recommended by the CDC,” says Reddy. 
Some insurance companies may be exempt so Reddy recommends checking with your insurance company about coverage before getting vaccinated.
 Eye Health
Children might be unaware of the fact their vision is not normal. This may lead to feeling frustrated about being unable to see the words in a book or in the classroom, causing a child to act out.
The CDC recommends that children’s eyes should be checked regularly by an eye doctor or pediatrician. Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is the most common cause of vision loss in children which can be treated if caught early between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. 
The American Optometric Association estimates 80% of a child’s learning happens through observation. In the classroom, most of the teaching is done by displaying information.
Oral Health
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your child visit a dentist for an initial check-up by the time they turn 1. According to the CDC, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases for kids from ages 6 to 19. Research studies have found that children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who have good oral health.
Fluoride can prevent about one-third of cavities in baby teeth. If your town water does not contain fluoride, you can ask your pediatrician or dentist to prescribe fluoride, which is typically taken in pill form once a day.
 Be a Role Model
“Make sure you prepare your child by teaching and modeling safe behavior,” Korb says,  “such as frequently washing hands, wearing a mask and keeping physical distance with other people.”

Cheryl Maguire holds a master of counseling psychology degree and is a mother of three. You can find her on Twitter @CherylMaguire05.

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