Preparing to Return to In-Person Learning

ThedaCare Physician Says Masks, Social Distancing and Hand Washing Are Still Key

January 6, 2021

WAUTOMA, Wis. – With the holidays behind us, many area school districts anticipate returning to in-person learning in the coming days and weeks. That makes it a good time to review the best practices to help kids stay safe from COVID-19 at school.

“We are continuing to see the spread of COVID-19 throughout the area,” said Long Nguyen, DO, family medicine physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Wautoma. “While we hope there won’t be a resurgence of infections after the holidays, we also know now is not the time to let our guard down, even with vaccines becoming available.”

Dr. Nguyen noted scientists and the medical community have learned more about how the coronavirus spreads in recent months. 

“It has become clear the primary method of transmission of the virus is through droplets or aerosols released from our mouth and nose when we breathe, talk, cough, laugh or sing,” he said. “That means wearing a face mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing will remain the most important ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Those three actions are our first line of defense.” 

He added that cloth masks or common surgical masks are acceptable for normal use, but stressed they should cover the nose, mouth and chin completely, fitting snugly on the face to prevent breath from escaping or entering the mask. 

He also said it is important for parents/guardians to remind children how to handle their masks properly. 

“No one should touch the front of his or her face mask after wearing it,” he said. “If they do, they should immediately wash their hands or use hand sanitizer to remove any virus particles from their hands. The proper way to remove one’s mask is to grab hold of the elastic or ties around the ears, remove the mask, and then fold it in half with the outside surface facing inward. Then it should be stored in a plastic bag or container until it can be washed for re-use or thrown away, if it’s surgical mask.”

Dr. Nguyen also said it is important for parents to properly equip their children with anti-viral supplies when sending them to school each day. Those recommendations suggest each student’s backpack should include:
  • Small hand sanitizer bottles, with the sanitizer containing at least 60-percent alcohol
  • Tissues for any sniffles
  • Extra face masks with the child’s name written on them to prevent any mix-ups with other students
  • A plastic container or re-sealable plastic bag for face mask storage

“A good practice would be to check the student’s backpack each night to see if all the supplies they may need are still available in their pack so there’s no last-minute rush in the morning,” he said. 

Families can make an age appropriate checklist, so kids can note each item as they put them in their backpack.
  • Hang a checklist on the refrigerator or by the door.
  • Label each child’s supplies, so everyone knows which items belong to which child.
  • Once packed, place the backpack by the door.

Dr. Nguyen added it’s also a good idea to review what supplies the school provides, such as hand-washing stations or extra masks and also ask if the student may keep a small pack of extra supplies in their desk, cubby or locker.

For families for whom money is tight, Dr. Nguyen suggested calling United Way’s 2-1-1 line—simply dial 211—to connect to community resources that provide free health care supplies. The service is confidential and available statewide 24/7/365. Compassionate Home Health Care also works with various organizations to get cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items to families who need the support to stay healthy.

Dr. Nguyen also stressed that any child who has a fever, is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should not return to school until their parents have checked with the family’s health care provider.

Lead by Example
“Our children are constantly watching us and follow our behaviors,” he said. “We have to model the behavior we want them to use. Wear a mask when you leave your home, practice social distancing and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently. When children see you perform those actions, they’ll learn that’s the best practice.” 

He noted kids might have gotten out of the habit of wearing masks while at home over the holidays or while taking part in virtual learning. He suggested having younger students wear a mask occasionally while at home might help them readjust to the habit prior to returning to school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommend masks for children over the age of two, but both also recognize that children and youth with health issues such as asthma or cancer or those with special needs like autism or other sensory issues may have difficulty wearing a mask. The CDC and AAP also recommend that children who have health conditions that put them in a high-risk category or who are immunocompromised should wear N95 respiratory masks to provide greater protection for themselves.

Lastly, Dr. Nguyen again cautioned that now is not the time to reduce COVID-19 prevention behaviors. 

“Even though vaccines are becoming available, it’s going to take some months before enough people are vaccinated to begin bringing the virus under control,” he said. “Until then, wearing face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing will continue to be necessary, but the good news is – better days are ahead.”