What precautions should families take against the coronavirus as children return to school?

To guide us through this back-to-school update, I spoke with CNN medical analyst Dr. Lena Wayne, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also the author of a bookLifeline: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health“And a mother of two who will be going back to school soon.

CNN: The question on the minds of a lot of parents and caregivers is masks. Are you going to take your kids back to school with masks?

Dr. Lina Wen: No, although I respect other parents and caregivers who make a different decision than we do based on how they see the risk of Covid-19 versus the downside of hiding their children.

Masks, especially high-quality masks, can reduce transmission of the coronavirus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hiding indoor spaces based on Covid-19 at the community level. I think it makes sense for parents and caregivers to follow CDC guidelines and decide that if the level of Covid-19 is high in their area, they will require their children to hide their clothes indoors at school. Concealment will reduce the risk of their children contracting the coronavirus and remains recommended for families for whom avoiding Covid-19 is a top priority, such as those who are immunocompromised.

I also think it is reasonable for parents and caregivers to make different risk calculations. Children are already at low risk of developing serious illness from Covid-19. Vaccination also reduces this risk. In addition, the variants currently circulating are so infectious that it is difficult to avoid infection. Some families may decide that they no longer prioritize avoiding infection anymore, and therefore choose not to hide their children in school.

This is what my family decided. Our views have changed a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, when much was unknown about the impact of Covid-19 on children. At the time, we followed very strict precautions, including hiding masks at all times indoors and only bonding with others outdoors. For us, the turning point was after Omicron took control, because it became very difficult to avoid Covid-19 despite the precautions. Vaccinating our children also gave us more reassurance that we could replace the mask with the protection that vaccination provides. We know that our children can still contract Covid-19, but the risk of severe disease is very low.

There is also the question of the perceived cost of hiding our children. Our children’s school does not require masks and based on our conversations with other families, very few parents will choose to hide their children. My nearly 5-year-old son, who is starting kindergarten, has speech delays that have improved since his schools chose to use the mask in the spring. My 2-year-old son, who is just starting preschool, doesn’t wear masks anyway. For us, the benefit of asking our kids the mask doesn’t outweigh the downside right now. That could change if a more serious variant emerges in the future.

CNN: Are there circumstances in which you’d advise parents and caregivers to hide their children at school?

Wen: It all comes down to how much the family wants to avoid Covid-19. Suppose there is a medically vulnerable member of the family who could become very ill if they contract the coronavirus. It makes sense for everyone in that family to take extra care not to infect that person.

Experts say there's one crucial step in self-testing for your Covid, you may be missing out

Families can also decide to wear masks before visiting vulnerable loved ones. For example, if an immunocompromised grandfather was to come to stay for a week, the children could hide in school in the week before and during the visit. I also advise the children to do a quick test just before Grandpa arrives, and for everyone – including adults – to avoid indoor gatherings for the week before and during the visit.

CNN: Speaking of testing, how often should families test their children?

Wen: Some schools may have a regular test rhythm or random test protocol to assess the level of Covid-19 in the students’ body. Others may only ask that children be tested if they have symptoms or have a known exposure. Again, how much families want their children tested depends on the degree to which they want to avoid the coronavirus. Many families see Covid-19 as they would any other viral illness, while some remain very cautious to try to avoid it for a number of reasons, including the unknown future risk of prolonged Covid.

CNN: Should parents and caregivers back out of any curricula or play dates for their children?

Wen: Any decision-making must balance the desire to avoid Covid-19 against the downside of keeping children away from activities they might enjoy. Given the risk account for our family, I don’t hold back from my children’s activities. My son plays football, and this sometimes happens indoors. My daughter is in a music class with a lot of singing, which is mostly indoors. We continue to play dates, both outdoors and indoors.

Families with vulnerable family members may decide to focus on children's outdoor activities as a precaution.  Children play at Betty Price Playground in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 19, 2021.

By the way, this does not mean that my family does not follow any precautions. My husband and I wear masks in airports and trains. We don’t take our kids to the aquarium or science center when it’s too crowded, so many people huddle together. We’re not trying to catch Covid-19 – but we’re also not going to change our lives as we have done in most cases of a pandemic to try to avoid it. We fully understand if other parents may decide to be more careful and stick to outdoor activities in the first place.

CNN: What happens if kids get Covid-19 – how long do they have to stay out of school? What if a member of his family gets Covid?

Wen: The CDC إرشادات Guidelines Say that people who have contracted Covid-19 must isolate for five days and then can return to public places with a suitable mask for the next five days. People who have been exposed to Covid-19, if they are up to date with vaccines, do not need to be quarantined and can return to public places as long as they are masked for 10 days, get tested after five days and remain asymptomatic. This is what our family will do if we get infected again.

Some schools have different protocols for this, so be sure to check with your school to make sure you’re following their rules.

CNN: Should families vaccinate their children if they haven’t already been vaccinated?

Wen: yes. a Recent large study, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that during Omicron’s predominance, two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced hospital admissions by 83% among children ages 5 through 11. Vaccination also reduced infection by 65%. This study and many others show the importance of vaccination in reducing the likelihood of severe infections and symptomatic diseases in children.
both of my kids Get their vaccinations as soon as they are eligible. (Both of my children are younger than 5; kids 5 and older are eligible for boosters, though Most of them didn’t get it.) For me, the account came to this. I knew that even without vaccinations, their chance of getting serious diseases was very low. But if I can reduce the chance of something bad happening even more, I’d like to do it. And now, with the vaccination, I am relieved that my children are resuming their normal pre-epidemic activities, even during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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