Back to School 101: Children’s experts share safety tips

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Social distancing and keeping their hands clean can help the state’s children stay safe from COVID-19, whether they are in school or at home this semester, according to Children’s of Mississippi experts.

Mary Taylor (Image courtesy of UMMC)

“We know that parents have so much uncertainty during this pandemic, but by encouraging their children to do the right things – wearing masks for most ages, keeping hands clean and physical distancing – they can help their families stay healthy,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair and professor and chair of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for a safe return to in-person classes, noting that children learn best when they are in school. However, Dr. Sally Goza, AAP president, has said steps must be taken to keep students and staff safe.

Sally Goza (Image courtesy of UMMC)

“After weighing what we know about kids and coronavirus, the AAP strongly advocates that the goal should be to have students physically present in school,” Goza said. “This should happen with careful measures to keep students and staff safe, and with the flexibility to adapt as needed to the community’s prevalence of COVID-19.”

One thing that is certain, said Dr. April Palmer, UMMC professor and chief of pediatric infectious disease: school will not be like it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

April Palmer (Image courtesy of UMMC)

“Even if students are back in the classroom this fall, their school district will be taking steps, such as distancing and thorough cleaning and disinfecting, to protect children, teachers and staff,” Palmer said. “School will not be like it was when students went home in March.”

Taylor said parents can help their children by modeling safe habits, such as wearing masks when in public and washing their hands frequently.

“We know that children pay attention to what their parents do,” she said. “By encouraging them to follow safe habits and taking those actions themselves, parents can make a big difference in keeping their families safe and stopping the spread.”

Image courtesy of UMMC

Children’s of Mississippi and the AAP offer these safety tips to parents this fall:

  • Physical distancing

Keeping at least six feet apart is best, but the AAP advises spacing desks at least three feet apart may have similar benefits if children are wearing facemasks.

  • Wear a mask

Facemasks protect children and adults from contracting COVID-19 by reducing the chance of transmitting the virus through the spray of spit and respiratory droplets. Cloth masks should cover mouths and noses and should be washed after each use. However, the risks outweigh the benefits of mask-wearing for young children. AAP guidelines indicate children younger than 2 should not wear cloth face coverings because of choking and strangulation risk.

  • Hand hygiene

Frequent handwashing with soap and water is important for everyone. Encourage children to wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds before eating, after visiting the restroom and after coughing or sneezing. Make sure older children have hand sanitizer with them in case soap and water are not available. The AAP website offers more tips on keeping hands clean.

  • Don’t share

That may sound like an odd request for parents to make of their children, but students can limit the spread of COVID-19 by not sharing things such as pencils, crayons, and water bottles, Taylor said. “We don’t want children sharing the virus.”

  • Stay home if feeling sick

Children and adults with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher or signs of illness such as sore throat, cough, diarrhea, and vomiting should stay home. Students should be free of symptoms, including fever, for at least 24 hours before returning to class.

For information on free COVID-19 screening and testing in your area, visit

  • Keep vaccinations current

Palmer said it is important now, more than ever, to keep immunizations up to date.

“Mississippi has strong vaccination rules, and this helps keep our children healthy,” she said. “During a pandemic, it is important for children to be protected from diseases that we do have vaccines to prevent.”

Palmer recommends flu shots for adults and children this fall. See your pediatrician to make sure your children have the immunizations they need.

  • Students at higher risk

Some children might be at higher risk for complications of COVID-19 due to certain medical conditions. Parents should consult their pediatrician to determine if returning to school in person is best.

Click here for additional COVID-19 information and tips.

Story written by Annie Oeth, UMMC Communications and Marketing

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