a child bikes in front of a schoolIf you’re one of the few people who haven’t yet (knowingly) had COVID-19, thinking about getting it can be scary. You’ve probably spent the last two and a half years being cautious, carefully weighing risk of your activities, and taking steps to stay COVID-free. Sending your child back to school without the same precautions that have been in place in prior school years may have you worried. Two key things to keep in mind:

  1. If you and your kids are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations, you are very well protected from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. We cannot overstate how important the COVID vaccines are in keeping kids in the classroom. When asked about back to school advice in a recent article, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said, “My first five recommendations are to vaccinate your children, vaccinate your children, vaccinate your children, vaccinate your children, vaccinate your children.”
  2. While we recommend masks for everyone when Dane County’s COVID-19 Community Level is High, you and your kids can still wear masks when in public spaces even if the Community Level is Medium or Low. High-quality masks provide excellent protection against viruses like COVID-19 and the flu, even if no one else around you is wearing one. We should all support others in their decisions to wear masks, whether that’s because they live with someone who is more likely to get very sick from COVID, they were exposed to someone with COVID, or it just makes them more comfortable.

Okay so your family is up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. What else can you do to prepare for the school year?

Be up to date on other routine vaccinations.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician to make sure they are up to date on their other vaccinations. Don't forget you can also get your COVID-19 vaccination or booster dose at the same time as other routine vaccinations. Read our blog for more on routine vaccinations!

Keep your child home if they’re sick.

If your child has fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, keep them home. But what about a cough or sore throat? See our health screening checklist as a guide. We recognize that keeping your kid home creates a cascade of logistical issues but will very likely be necessary at some point throughout the year—either due to COVID or another bug going around. Make a plan now for childcare in the event your kiddo needs to stay home.

Bookmark our page on what to do if you’re sick or exposed.

CDC recently issued a lot of new guidance related to what to do if you’re sick or were exposed to someone with COVID-19. Check out the latest now, and bookmark the page so you can easily get back to it if you find yourself in that situation.

Have a stash of home tests on hand.

The last thing you want to do is track down a rapid test when you or your kid are sick or were exposed. Having a few rapid tests on hand ahead of illness is a good way to be prepared. We’re hearing a lot about people who have symptoms for a few days before they test positive with a home test; have enough on hand for each person in your home so you can repeat testing. Order free tests from the postal service, or know that health insurers (including Medicaid and Medicare) are required to reimburse up to eight tests per month, per member. Check with your insurance provider for details. Read more about home testing on our website. Need a PCR test? Our website lists places throughout the county to find them.

Have high-quality masks in case you need them.

Even if your kids aren’t wearing masks daily at school, there might be a time where you need them because they are coming out of isolation or were exposed to someone with COVID-19. Our page on what to do if you’re sick or were exposed has more details on when CDC recommends masking. Additionally, your child’s school or childcare center may require masks if there is an outbreak or if our COVID-19 Community Level is High.

Model good health habits, like handwashing, at home.

Talk to your kids about frequent handwashing and coughing and sneezing into the crook of their elbows. Demonstrate these behaviors when at home—kids want to copy you! Tuck pocket-size hand sanitizers and packs of tissues in backpacks for easy access.

Talk to your kids about their feelings.

If you have anxiety about your child going back to school, they may very well be nervous too. Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a recent article, “Open communication is key: Let your children know they can talk to you about their fears. Validate their feelings. Tell them: ‘I can understand how you feel. This can be scary. However, there are lots of things we can do to keep ourselves safe.’” Involve a mental health professional if you and your child need extra support.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.