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Preparing for a Safe Return to School

A few months ago, we had hoped that kids could return back to school in different times than last year. Things seemed to be improving, adults were getting vaccinated and COVID-19 numbers were at an all-time low in this country.

Unfortunately, we are in a place many of us hoped we wouldn’t be in.

In Florida, the pandemic is the worst it’s ever been. The very contagious Delta variant is currently devastating Florida, leaving our entire population at risk. The most affected are the unvaccinated. Our children under 12 are included in this, given they are not eligible to receive a vaccine.

With going back to school, parents have many concerns. Namely, if masks should be instituted.

Both the AAP, CDC and I agree that masks should be required in schools for all teachers, staff, and students regardless of vaccination status. This is to protect the child but also their peers. To check vaccination status for each individual will get difficult and a blanket policy ensures protection for all.

Right now, we do not know WHY certain kids are getting sicker than others or why some need hospitalization and others don’t. So, it’s important we protect our peers. Masking is the easiest thing we can do to help stop the spread of this virus. Masking is the easiest thing we can do to assure our children can enjoy an in-person learning environment they can benefit from. This mandate may not be needed for long, but we need to see how the Delta variant (and any other variants) affect our community before changing these requirements.

Fortunately, schools have not been a major cause of COVID spreading events, particularly when a number of prevention measures are in place. A combination of precautions — masking indoors, keeping students at least three feet apart in classrooms, keeping students in separate cohorts or “pods,” encouraging hand washing and regular testing, and quarantining — have been effective.

In my practice, many parents have asked what they can do to protect their children if they are not vaccinated. The single most important thing we can do is vaccinate ourselves. Vaccines not only protect us from severe disease and death, it protects those around us. Our children are relying on us to protect them and vaccines help do this.

Across the country, children being admitted to hospitals largely have one thing in common: they live in households with unvaccinated adults.

As we go back to school, it’s important to consider how we can best protect our children and their peers. Hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing practices must be adhered to in order to ensure the safety of our children and school staff. Vaccines add to this protection and should be considered for all individuals 12+ to fight this virus and get back to normal.

Whether your child is heading back to school in person or remote, I wish you all a safe and healthy year ahead.

*Presented by Pediatric Associates of Tampa Bay

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