With all the promise a Covid vaccine brought, who would have ever thought we would still be worrying about keeping our kids safe as they begin a new school year? We know so much more than we did last year, but with the Delta variant surging there is still uncertainty and anxiousness for many around returning to school.
I think if we learned anything from Zoom school it is that there is no replacement for the social emotional learning that takes place in person. Recent studies are beginning to scratch the surface on the toll remote learning took mentally and academically. So many students barely held on, many fell behind or just stopped logging on, and I think it is safe to say no one thrived. So Covid is still here, but we must get our children back to school, in person and full time; but how do we do that and feel safe, especially if they are younger than 12 years old and not vaccinated?
Many students are returning to the inside of a classroom for the first time in 18 months but with some changes. Recently, health guidelines around schools changed and all students, faculty, and staff are required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Some positive changes from last year will help make it feel more like a normal year: Small cohorts or pods are no longer required, and as of now masks don’t need to be worn outside, and social distancing is encouraged whenever possible but is not mandatory.
We know masks are one of the most effective tools to stop the spread. For children, especially younger ones, make sure they have a mask they are comfortable wearing all day that doesn’t slip down. This took us some trial and error and now each of my children has a different type of mask they like, but this is a small inconvenience for keeping everyone healthy. We also know that hand sanitizer works, as does continued vigilance about hand washing when possible.
One of the most important things we can do is to vaccinate everyone in our households as soon as they are eligible. Trials are still ongoing for children younger than 12, but many health professionals are hopeful we will have a vaccine for children younger than 12 before the end of 2021. With the extreme prevalence of variants that have proven to be more contagious than the original Covid-19 virus, health experts are urging anyone eligible to get vaccinated. However, we now know that being vaccinated doesn’t make you immune from getting or transmitting the virus.
In our house, we are all vaccinated except for my youngest who is not yet eligible. But in an abundance of caution and for peace of mind, we recently ordered some at-home rapid Covid tests where you swab your own nose and get the results in minutes. You can get them at Walgreens, CVS, or Amazon. My older children thought being vaccinated meant no more Covid tests, but it looks like they may be a staple in our medicine cabinet for the foreseeable future.
DO YOUR PART
I don’t think any of us want another year of remote learning or even hybrid learning; therefore, we all must do our part. This means staying home if you or your child has any symptoms. There was a time before Covid when maybe we pushed the limits and sent our kids to school with a runny nose or a cough, but those days are over. Health experts and school administrators are advising if your child shows any signs of illness not to send them to school. Pediatricians are also reminding parents not to forget about the importance of also continuing to get the flu shot, especially this year. We all must be vigilant and take the steps necessary to ensure our kids are able to stay in school.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the hardest and most confusing part of this virus has been keeping up with it. What we are learning about it seems to be constantly changing and evolving along with the state and city health guidelines. One day it is masks everywhere, then masks only outdoors if you are vaccinated, then masks indoors for everyone regardless of vaccination status. However, many parents share my feeling that if we must remain in masks, but our kids are able to be in a classroom, then it is worth it.
So please, as a city and a community, let’s all work together to minimize our risks and ensure our children stay healthy and can remain in the classroom this year.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. [email protected].