With lingering concerns surrounding COVID-19 – and a recent, gradual increase in the number of positive cases again – many local school districts are discussing their recommendations for masking and social distancing for students and teachers this fall.
In the meantime, there are a few things parents can do to help prep their child for the coming school year.
When area cases of COVID-19 began declining this year, school districts, businesses and other organizations began relaxing mask-wearing and distancing rules – though recently, positive case numbers are increasing again in Wisconsin – up 160 percent in the first two weeks of July, according to the state Department of Health Services.
“It’s important for parents to keep in contact with their child’s school district to stay updated on what safety protocols will be in place this fall,” said Dr. Long Nguyen, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Wautoma. “Mask-wearing and social distancing are still best in an uncertain environment.”
The CDC recently announced new masking guidelines and recommendations for the 2021-2022 school year to protect students against COVID-19. The agency now recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place. The state Association of School Boards is allowing local districts to decide their own policies about masks and social distancing.
After months of wearing a mask in class last year, possibly going to school without one this year may be something new for kids.
“Lots of kids will be excited to return to school this fall, and some may have lingering anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed when interacting in social situations, especially if they’ve grown used to being at home,” Dr. Nguyen said. “And that is where families need to help their students understand what they’re experiencing.”
Parents should check in with kids about how they’re feeling, he said. It can be a good idea to share how you’re feeling yourself, in simple terms.
“You might say that you are concerned about the virus, and feel confident the vaccine is doing its job,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Parents also can talk about their own feelings of awkwardness about getting back to social situations, adding that it will get easier as time goes on.”
Dr. Nguyen noted that some anxiety is normal. Parents should watch for withdrawal, deep anxiety in social situations, or a change in behavior for their children.
“Those changes might indicate the onset of depression,” he said. “We’ve all been through a very challenging situation that has taken a toll on mental health, and children are not immune.”
Kids want to know their concerns are being heard, so take time to listen, he said. Make sure your child knows it’s normal to feel worried about going back to school or concerned about the virus.
“At the same time, you can reinforce the idea that both you and your child’s school are monitoring the situation, acting according to guidelines, and will make adjustments as needed,” Dr. Nguyen said. “If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, your provider can offer referrals to therapists or wellness resources that can help.”
Other children might need extra time to return to in-person learning because of physical reasons or special needs, Dr. Nguyen said. For children with conditions that compromise their immunity or have trouble with transitions, keep in touch with your provider and your child’s school.
Additionally, schools may have more stringent policies about attending school when they have any symptoms of illness, so parents should be ready with alternative plans when children need to be kept at home.
As school districts determine rules for the year, getting vaccinated, following mask-wearing and social distancing recommendations are still the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. Right now, children 12 and up are eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Until vaccines are given full approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), experts believe it is unlikely COVID-19 vaccines will be required for school attendance.
“Experts continue to support that in-person learning is the best option for students,” said Dr. Nguyen. “Being in school, around peers and teachers, can support their social, emotional, and physical development. We hope that families feel confident and comfortable with COVID-safe recommendations. Getting back to the classroom can help give children a sense of normalcy that they need right now.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.