In the year 2020, the annual back to school season looks a lot different than it has in any year in recent memory. Whereas in past years, the biggest concerns most families had involved making sure kids could get back on a schedule of waking up early, getting all the needed supplies stuffed into that backpack for the first day back in class, and checking to make sure all summer reading, math, and other assignments actually got done, in 2020 back to school safety is top of mind.
As kids prepare to return to school during COVID-19, the most important thing caregivers, teachers, administrator, and even fellow pupils can impress on students is taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously. This virus is still very much with us in America, so the tendency for people to give up on safety measures – a tendency strongest among kids – must be averted before classes resume and large groups of people are suddenly mingling.
Most schools in districts where kids are returning to class in the fall of 2020 have safety measures in place. These include desks spaced for social distancing, hallways routed to be single-direction use, plentiful stations with hand sanitizer or sinks with soap for handwashing, physical barriers, and more. Among its guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends schools use cohorting, or keeping groups children in isolated pods, as this can help identify cases and limit spread of the disease should it break out in a particular school. These measures, along with regular deep cleanings of school facilities, will do much to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in schools.
But children staying safe in school during COVID-19 will truly come down to the actions each child takes to keep himself or herself safe against contracting the virus and limiting the spread of potential infection to others.
We know that COVID-19 spreads readily via aerosol droplets expelled when a person coughs, sneezes, or exhales generally, and we know that wearing face masks can contain these virus-bearing droplets, stopping the spread from an infected person and stopping expelled aerosols from reaching a healthy person’s mouth and nose. So parents have to ensure that kids have clean face masks that fit well, are comfortable enough for all-day use, and that a child will actually keep on his or her face when in school.
A face mask is the first and most important new normal piece of gear kids need to bring along with them this year, and students returning to school in 2020 need to have the ability to wear a clean mask daily, whether that means purchasing five masks and washing them all on the weekends, purchasing fewer cloth face masks and laundering more often, or using disposable face masks.
Hand sanitizer is the next thing that belongs in every child’s backpack in the 2020 back to school season. Schools around the country are of course offering plenty of hand sanitizer, but children should have their own tube (or bottle or spray or hand sanitizer wipes) at the ready for use following commutes, at day’s end, at their own desks, and after any contact where they can’t immediately use sanitizer supplied by the school.
While not as important as face masks, having a pair of disposable gloves at the ready is also a good idea, especially if a student will be eating in a communal cafeteria where social distancing is difficult.
But equally as important as the few new items in the backpack in 2020 is the understanding caregivers and faculty instill in kids this year that COVID-19 will only go away if every one of us stays safe together. With the right effort and a bit of luck, the back to school year in 2021 will look more like it did in 2019 and in all the many years before. But in 2020, returning to class during the pandemic means safety first.