— By Debbie Quinn —
Well, it’s Groundhog Day! Remember the movie with Bill Murray from 1993? It demonstrates the sameness of every day and hoping for something to change. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? So, this is another school year and a repeat of every school year that has ever come before. For the first six weeks, classrooms become swamp-like. Colds, runny noses, sneezing, and flu-like symptoms are everywhere. When you put that many kids together, we know that kids will be kids, and children will touch things and spread germs like wildfire. But the pandemic added layers to that dynamic. Kids are catching not only regular colds and flus but also COVID-19. And today, we have the latest, greatest contagious variant. But we have ways to keep our children and our communities safe.
We’re better prepared than in the first two years of the pandemic.
Unlike the past few years, we now have COVID-19 vaccines available for children over 6 months of age. That helps. A lot. We do know that the new variant, BA.5, is more contagious. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots that target both the original COVID-19 strain as well as the omicron BA.5 variant. COVID-19 vaccines are being monitored under the most comprehensive and intense vaccine safety monitoring program in U.S. history. Multiple studies and data reviews from vaccine safety monitoring systems continue to show that vaccines are safe. Serious reactions after COVID-19 vaccination in children and teens are rare. When they are reported, serious reactions most frequently occur within a few days after vaccination.
With protocol that keeps changing, it’s understandable there’s some confusion around what to do if your kids are sick.
I spoke with a school nurse in northeast Alabama who stated that families are confused about COVID-19 protocol. If their child has a fever, they might give them Tylenol and send them to school anyway, telling them to see the school nurse. We can’t blame parents for feeling this way. COVID-19 keeps changing and figuring out how to keep making us sick. Parents are exhausted trying to figure it all out. The school nurse noted that the children don’t seem as sick as with the other variants. This is a good thing, but because it’s so contagious, it doesn’t take long before it’s passed from child to family, child to teacher, and child to older adults who help at home. That’s the part that is concerning. Children often bounce back quickly, but older adults with health issues may not. Staying home when sick can lower the risk of spreading infectious diseases, including COVID-19, to other people.
It’s easy to fall back into those pre-COVID days where a little cold wasn’t a big deal. In a pre-pandemic world, a lot of us sent our children to school with coughs and sniffles. Now we know we should be more cautious. But how cautious should we be? Should we send them to school or keep them home when they start sniffing and coughing? Do they have COVID-19 or a summer cold? Remember there is a difference between COVID-19 and the yearly flu. They are different viruses but have similar symptoms. Testing can help you tell the difference. But remember that you usually don’t have a fever with a cold.
When your child becomes feverish, that’s when you should be most concerned. According to the CDC, isolation can end at least 5 days after symptom onset and after fever ends for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and symptoms are improving. It is also recommended that people continue to properly wear a well-fitted mask around others for 5 more days after the 5-day isolation period. Day 0 is the first day of symptoms. Testing your child with symptoms as well as the rest of your family can help you know how to proceed.
The CDC has updated its COVID-19 recommendations to be more relaxed. They have removed guidelines on regular testing and now recommend masking at a high COVID-19 Community Level. The CDC has stated that with tools like vaccines and treatment options, as well as widespread immunity built up from the vaccine, from a COVID-19 infection, or both, we can move towards a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.
Some schools may offer regular COVID-19 testing for students and staff. This means testing is offered regularly, even for students and teachers who don’t have symptoms of COVID. Your school will have the most up-to-date information. It’s also worth noting that it may take a full five days for a test to show positive. Schools do not need to require a negative test result for students, teachers, and staff to return to school after breaks. If you travel during breaks you should follow CDC recommendations for returning after travel.
You will have to rely on your gut instinct when your kids start feeling a little sick. Their symptoms will tell you a lot and you’ll have to decide how that impacts their school life, your personal family life, and your job. The school nurse from northeast Alabama also did state that some parents are scared to keep their children home from school due to truancy laws. So, get the information you need from each school to determine the law where you live.
Teach your children the basic principles of how to stay healthy.
Sometimes there’s no avoiding the ever-present germs of a classroom. But there is plenty you can do to help your students take steps to keep them healthy when they go to school.
- Teach them good hand washing skills. Everything they touch goes to their faces. Try to teach them to keep it clean.
- Wash after blowing their noses.
- Wash after using the bathroom.
- Wash after playing with pets.
- Wash after putting their hands in their mouths.
- Send hand sanitizer attached to their backpacks for when they can’t wash adequately.
- Send small packages of tissues with them to school for when they can’t get a tissue.
- Use the inside of your elbow to sneeze and cough. If you do that, your hands stay clean, and it doesn’t get sent to others.
- Don’t share…. that’s food, drinks, hats, gloves, and kisses. In this case, sharing is not caring.
- Use a clean tissue every time you sneeze, wipe your nose, blow your nose, etc. Then throw it away. Don’t keep it on your desk or in your pocket.
- Take their temperature if they are feeling sick.
- Keep them home if they do not feel well and/or have a fever.
COVID is here to stay so we need to learn how to live with it.
Vaccines and boosters (just like with measles, mumps, and the yearly flu) are tools that will help you wade through every new variant or outbreak. Testing and wearing masks in areas with high COVID-19 Community Levels can help keep your family, friends and co-workers safe as we head into the new school year.