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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Staying Safe in School During the Pandemic

Going to School During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Education got complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic. At first some schools stayed open, while others used a hybrid model with a mix of in-person and remote learning. Many kids stayed home full-time and attended classes virtually.

Some key things became clear as the pandemic went on:

  • Going to school in-person is how kids learn best.
  • Schools are more than a place for kids to learn. They're also safe places to be while their parents are working, and they support kids' physical, mental, social, and emotional health.
  • With proper safety measures, schools can limit the spread of the virus.

So, experts recommended that kids go back to in-person school, as long as safety steps are taken. But parents may have some concerns because the pandemic isn't over yet and newer variants of the virus keep showing up.

Fortunately, public health guidelines can help children and teachers stay safe and healthy in school.

What Safety Steps Can Help?

No safety measure is 100% effective. But these steps done together offer many layers of protection:

  • Vaccination: The COVID-19 vaccines are proven to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death. They are safe and effective, and are recommended for kids 6 months and older and all adults. Booster shots are recommended for adults and kids age 5 years and older. Everyone who is eligible should get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot as soon as possible.
  • Wearing masks: The CDC recommends that kids 2 and older and all adults wear masks when inside schools and school buses if they live in an area with a high rate of COVID-19 infection, even if they're vaccinated. Anyone who's exposed to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask for 10 days after exposure. Masks should always be worn in the school nurse’s office. The mask should fit snugly and cover the nose and mouth. Kids who are at higher risk for getting sick with COVID-19 (such as those with weak immune systems) should wear a mask even if the rate of COVID-19 in their community is not that high. Some children who are not high-risk might choose to wear a mask as well. Parents should let their children know that this is OK and part of life during a pandemic.
  • Keeping clean:Washing hands well and often with soap and water or using hand sanitizer is always a good idea. So is covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of an elbow when not wearing a mask.
  • Testing and staying home when necessary:
    • For kids who feel sick: Children who have a fever or any other signs of illness should test for COVID-19 and stay home until they feel better. Kids who test positive for the coronavirus should isolate at home according to public health guidelines.
    • For kids who feel well but have been exposed to an infected person: Kids who had close contact with someone who's infected should wear a mask and get tested according to public health guidelines, even if they're vaccinated.
    • For kids who feel well and have no known exposure: Some schools have offered screening to test healthy people regularly for the virus. Screening means testing people who feel healthy and have no known exposure to the virus, to see if they have been infected without realizing it. This can help schools identify outbreaks and take steps to stop the spread as early as possible. While most schools may not screen routinely, some might if there is a high rate of COVID-19 infections in the community. Schools may screen some student groups at higher risk for infection, such as athletes, band or choir members, or theater groups. Or they might choose to screen before large events like a prom, or after students return from breaks.

What if My Child or Family Member Is in a High-Risk Group?

Some people are more likely to get very sick from coronavirus, such as those with some kinds of health problems and adults 65 or older. Babies younger than 12 months old might get sicker from coronavirus than older kids.

If your child has a health problem or lives with someone in a high-risk group, it's a good idea for them to wear a mask to school. Speak to school staff to see what else the school can do to protect them so that they can remain safely in the classroom with their classmates. Most important, all family members who can get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot should do so.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Sep 20, 2022

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