Cedars-Sinai Blog

Five Tips for a Safe Back-to-School During COVID-19

A young girl in a mask returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does going back to school during a pandemic mean for students and parents?

Not all schools will resume on-campus learning this fall, but some will, and others may follow in the near future. No matter when your child's campus reopens, you'll see changes designed to keep kids safe, such as spacing desks farther apart.

"There are easy, effective things families can do to help ensure a safe back-to-school."

Other steps may include limiting the number of kids in each classroom, eating lunches at desks instead of communal tables, cleaning high-touch surfaces, washing hands often and using outdoor spaces. 

"It's going to be a community effort," says Dr. Kyle Monk, a pediatrician at Cedars-Sinai. "There are easy, effective things families can do to help ensure a safe return to school."

Catch up on shots

Because of the pandemic, some families have fallen behind on vaccines. 

"It's important to catch up on routine shots," says Dr. Monk. "COVID-19 shouldn't make us forget about other viruses that pose dangers to kids' health. 

"In addition, kids may not be allowed in class if they're showing symptoms of any kind, so make sure you're up to date on all age-appropriate vaccines. Along with routine immunizations, I recommend a flu shot for kids." 

Keep up with well-child visits, too. 

"It's safe to bring your child to any Cedars-Sinai clinic, hospital or doctor's office," she adds. "The medical center has outstanding measures in place to protect patients and staff alike."

Hold off on hugs

Many kids will be excited to reunite with friends when schools reopen, but it's too early for hugs. Remind your children that people can have COVID-19 without knowing it, so even if you don't feel ill, you could pass it to somebody else. Your classmate might have a grandmother or an aunt who would get really sick if she caught the virus that causes COVID-19. 

"Most kids react well to the idea of protecting other people," says Dr. Monk. 

Teens may have an especially tough time staying away from parties. 

"They might have friends who aren't being careful, and they don't want to seem overly cautious or be left out," says Dr. Monk. "Parents need to be consistent, and lead by example. Tell them that if we all stick to the guidelines, we have a better chance of getting the virus under control and getting back to the activities we enjoy."

Sing your way to hygiene

Hygiene is key, but isn't it hard to get kids to wash their hands for 20 seconds? 

"Children actually have an easy time following hand-washing guidelines," says Dr. Monk. 

She recommends making a game of it, such as having to lather up up every time you handle a high-touch surface. Most kids know the "Happy Birthday" tune, which takes about 20 seconds to sing twice. 

Singing also adds a touch of fun, so use it to help kids develop good hand-washing habits before going back to school. Pack sanitizer for them, too. 

"By age 5, many children can learn to use sanitizer responsibly," says Dr. Monk. 

Practice mask-wearing

Masks are a different story. 

"It's hard to get kids to wear masks properly and keep them on," Dr. Monk explains. "They'll touch their mask a lot if it feels bad on their face, so make sure the mask is comfortable." 

She recommends a mask made out of cloth that fits snuggly without being tight. You may have to try different types before you find the right one. Be patient and take your time, because it's important — there's mounting evidence that masks can really reduce transmission, and schools may require them.

If your kids aren't used to wearing masks, start with short periods and gradually have them wear the mask for longer until it starts to feel normal.

Don't share those carrot sticks

Many children like to share with their friends. While that's a wonderful trait, explain to your kids that sharing food isn't a great idea right now. 

Schools are also changing how they serve food to reduce the risk of transmission. 

"Whether your children are eating meals offered on campus or bringing their lunch, it's best to not touch each other's food," says Dr. Monk. "It's not about being selfish. It's the opposite. It's about taking care of each other."