Written by SMH Digital Communications Specialist Ann Key
The 2020-2021 school year is upon us. You can help the students in your family stay healthy, stay safe and stay focused with these tips and reminders, whether they're returning to the classroom, learning virtually or homeschooling.
Health concerns are understandably front and center this school year, due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. Know that one of the most important steps you can take to keep your family and community safe is to stay home if you’re sick and to keep students home if they are unwell.
If you haven’t already, be sure to talk to your children — in an age-appropriate way — about COVID-19. Explain what the virus is, how it spreads, why we all need to wear masks when we are around others, how to practice physical distancing and the importance of hand hygiene. (Click here for Sarasota County Schools’ parent resources for explaining COVID-19.)
When gathering school supplies this year, include well-fitting face masks (at least 5 or 6 reusable masks for each child, so he/she can wear a clean one to school and take a backup each day), travel-size hand sanitizer to keep in their backpacks and small disposable bags for storing face masks when they are not in use.
Wearing a Mask — Have your child (ages 2 and older) practice wearing a face mask for extended periods prior to the start of the school year, and discuss with them the dos and don’ts of wearing and handling face masks.
- Masks should completely cover the nose and mouth. They should not be worn under the chin or left to dangle from an ear or a lanyard/clip when not in use.
- Provide your student with a paper bag or plastic bag (unsealed) for mask storage when it’s not in use (for example, snack or meal times); label the bag with the child’s name.
- A fabric face mask should be washed after each school day before it is worn again.
Sick? Stay Home — If your child has a fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, muscle soreness, diarrhea or other possible COVID-19 symptom — or you think he/she may be sick — keep them home from school and call your pediatrician for guidance. If you do not have a doctor, call the Sarasota Health Department at 941-861-2873.
Each school district and college/university has developed protocols for handling student illness this year; be sure you are familiar with these. (Click here to view the Sarasota County Schools’ guidance regarding student illness and COVID-19 infection and exposure.)
Handwashing How-to — Germs like to spread on our hands, so teaching children proper hand hygiene can help them avoid COVID-19 and other nasty illnesses like the flu, stomach bug and common cold — and can help keep those germs out of your home.
- When to wash hands: Any time is a good time to wash your hands, but it's a must for students upon arrival to school and as soon as they get home after school; before eating; after gym class, recess and time on the playground; after coughing or sneezing, blowing their nose and using the restroom.
- How to wash hands: Wet hands; add soap; rub hands together for 20 seconds, scrubbing palms, fingertips, between fingers and backs of hands; rinse until all bubbles are gone; dry hands using paper towel; and use paper towel to turn off faucet. (For a hand hygiene how-to video, check out this Healthe-Matters post.) Tip: Teach young students to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice while scrubbing hands to ensure they hit the 20-second mark.
- Remind children to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when handwashing isn’t an option.
Stick to the Routine — Preventative medical care is always important — no matter your age — but it’s absolutely critical that children are up to date on immunizations heading into the 2020-2021 school year amidst a pandemic and with flu season just around the corner. Stick to your routine of annual well-child visits and recommended immunizations.
Get the Flu Shot — Because medical experts don't yet know how COVID-19 and influenza will interact, it’s important that everyone older than 6 months get a flu shot this year (unless they have contraindications).
Many healthcare providers also recommend getting it earlier than usual this year. Sarasota Memorial infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, advises getting the flu shot in September-October this year.
Adults and children can now get vaccinated for flu at any Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Center location. Flu shots also are available at the Sarasota Health Department and some area pharmacies.
Getting There & Back — Whether your child has been riding a school bus for years or will be walking to school for the very first time, it’s important to review ways he/she can get to and from school safely.
Click here to read SMH Trauma Coordinator Leeann Putney’s great tips and safety reminders for student walkers, bus-riders, cyclists and drivers; and be sure to review the info with your student.
Put the Device Down — Did you know that distracted driving causes thousands of deaths each year? In 2017 alone, 3,166 deaths were directly linked to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Consider making a rule for everyone in your family that devices stay stashed during commutes until the destination is reached (bus stop, school, work, etc.). Listening to music, talking on the phone and texting can be dangerous distractions, whether you’re walking, biking or driving.
The Dangers of Vaping — Vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes, among tweens and teens has become an increasing concern for parents, educators and the healthcare community. Click here to get the facts on vaping, its potential dangers and teen use of the Juul device in an Ask An Expert video with SMH Lung Cancer Screening Coordinator Amie Miller.
Stay Fueled & Focused
Send students off to school ready to learn, and help them stay fueled up and focused all day long.
Kickstart your student’s day with a protein-rich breakfast like hard-boiled eggs, mini “quiches,” egg sandwich or even toast with nut butter. Skip the sugar-laden cereals and breakfast bars, which will only set them up for a mid-morning brain crash.
Keep easy-to-make or grab-and-go breakfast and snack options on hand , especially if you have a teen. With many schools staggering lunch periods to accommodate social distancing, most area middle- and high-schoolers will be eating lunch later than normal.
When buying pre-made or processed foods, check the nutrition label before buying ; some products look deceptively healthy but are loaded with sugar. (Visit the US Department of Agriculture’s Choose My Plate website for further guidance.)
Teach your student how to stay hydrated, especially during summer months and sports practices. Use these tips:
- Make drinking water more fun. Let your student choose his/her own fun water bottle and personalize it. Keep it interesting by flavoring the water with mix-ins sweetened with Stevia and colored with fruit/vegetable-based colorings.
- Discourage sugary sodas and non-diluted sports drinks, as well as caffeinated energy drinks. Pack an extra water bottle for students whose school does not have a water bottle-filling station; most schools have disabled water fountain use.
Students also need quality sleep and regular exercise to keep their focus and to stay healthy.
- Help children stick to a consistent sleep routine, and insist that they power down TVs and personal electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Studies have shown that using a digital device at bedtime greatly diminishes sleep quality.
- Before kids dive into homework (or screen time) after school, encourage them to get some exercise and a healthy snack. Suggest 30 minutes of walking, stretching, yoga, swimming or cycling. Long hours at a desk with little physical activity can take a toll on health, even in young people.
For afterschool snacks, offer something that can re-fuel young brains and bodies. Discourage unhealthy vending machine snacks. Almonds and other nuts are a good snack choice, as are hummus + pita slices or hummus + veggies. Click here for healthy snack ideas and recipes from SMH Outpatient Dietitian Emily Harren.
Wishing every student, family and school staff a safe and happy year!
Sarasota Memorial Digital Communications Specialist Ann Key manages the health system's Healthe-Matters blog and digital newsletter, as well as its other social media and wellness content channels. Have a health question or a wellness topic you'd like a local expert to weigh in on, let us know: Send an email to email@example.com.