Medically Safe: Back-To-School Practices

Medically Safe: Back-To-School Practices

This post is sponsored by psi, visit their COVID-19 Resource Center at


by Dr. Carly Wilbur, UH Pediatrician and psi Medical Director

Safe and reliable school operation is the priority for parents and educational staff alike. Studies consistently demonstrate the benefits —social, nutritional, cognitive, language, and academic — of in-person learning for children of all ages. The physical distancing mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the normal social scaffolding on which typical developmental stages are built. To help re-establish these norms, there are steps we can all take to ensure the safest road forward.

Some school buildings have a large enough footprint to accommodate proper physical distancing, and some have been able to manage the additional safety interventions of Plexiglass barriers and heightened cleaning regimens producing reassuring examples of how schools can function during the pandemic. For some schools that have not been able to implement these types of interventions, measures can still be taken to protect both the student body and the more vulnerable population of teachers and administrators. Frequent reminders for pupils to maintain proper masking and physical distancing along with available hand-sanitizing stations can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

Furthermore, organizing grades or athletic teams into smaller “pods” allows for compartmentalization and early containment of COVID contagion and spares the larger group any increased risk. Creating accessible and reliable online platforms for learning and teaching that allow students or teachers who have had a close contact or who feel under the weather to participate from home will shield the greater school population from exposure by allowing higher-risk individuals to stay involved without endangering others. It’s imperative to make support available to anyone who needs extra help with Math or English, or even encouragement in the face of increased stressors related to the pandemic.

According to information collected worldwide, children ages 10 years and younger tend to have milder COVID-19 symptoms, and their rate of severe disease (and therefore need for hospitalization) is more than 20 times lower than that of adults. But, complacency could have tragic consequences. We must remain vigilant and fight the tendency to tire of these necessary precautions. Maintaining safe protocols during sports participation, school clubs, lunchtime, and other non-academic but school-related activities is essential. Similarly, families of school-aged children must remember that the rate of COVID-19 cases in a school will reflect the incidence of disease in that school’s community, so decisions to participate in social gatherings should be weighed carefully, as these could have negative ripple effects.

Lastly, with several viable commercial vaccines on the horizon, there is hope that an end to the COVID-19 pandemic could be in sight. But like any proactive protective intervention, its success relies on the public’s involvement.

Together, we can achieve a balance of safety and normalcy until the COVID-19 pandemic resolves. Because the consequences of each of our individual actions impacts everyone around us, we have the power to steer our communities and schools away from harm and toward a safer future together. 

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