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Covid 19: Back to School Safety

Dr. Morris Yen discusses the precautions that families should take when their kids return to school in person.
Covid 19: Back to School Safety
Featured Speaker:
Morris Yen, MD
Morris Yen, MD graduated with honors from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in biomedical engineering. He spent a year doing research before following his dream of becoming a pediatrician. He then went to the University of Tennessee Medical School and returned for his internship/residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Yen currently serves as Chief of Pediatrics at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

Melanie Cole (Host):  Welcome to It’s Your Health Radio with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. I’m Melanie Cole and today, we’re talking about precautions that families can take when their kids go back to school. And if you’re like me, and you’re a parent; this is a very anxious and stressful time and none of us quite know what’s going to happen. Well joining us to help us figure out some of this, is Dr. Morris Yen. He’s the Chief of Pediatrics at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Dr. Yen, welcome back to the podcast. As most schools and many schools around the country are starting the year online but hope to move to in-person instruction before too long; what do you want parents to know about sending their kids back to school and keeping them safe, because that’s really what it’s all about.

Morris Yen, MD (Guest):  Yeah. I would say a few things. I think it’s exciting that hopefully kids can return to school. We want to do it in a safe way. Kids, parents, even teachers are going to be a little anxious. But we can do some little things to help prepare everyone. First, and foremost, you want to be proactive. You want to communicate with your kids. Talk to them about some upcoming things that might be happening when they return to school. So, you want to have them understand that there may be some temperature checks before they go in. They probably will have to wear masks. And you may need to prepare them on how to be comfortable wearing a mask for longer periods of time. Some of us aren’t used to that. And then you just have to let them know that there’s going to be some social distancing, so they may have to sit at their desks. They can’t roam around. And most importantly, kids are used to sharing things so, you want to make sure that you have them supplied up and what I mean by that is make sure like the older kids bring their pencils, bring their calculators, bring their water, because you can’t share those things. Those are some of the tips I would recommend before your kids return to school.

Host:  Well Dr. Yen, I know this depends on the age of the kids and as you mentioned, masks. For our littler ones that are having to go in class, they play with them, they wear them around their necks, they don’t cover their noses, they shoot them like you know shoot them around the room. How can we convince our kids that this is important? They must do this. And also add in teaching them hand hygiene so that as you said, bring your own water, don’t use the water fountains. There are things that we can tell our kids but hand hygiene, mask wearing, all of those things. How do you want us to teach our kids that?

Dr. Yen:  So, I think with both those things, you want to practice those things at home, and you want to be good role models at home. So, you can even have them start wearing a mask. Let them watch a television show and have them put on their mask. They have to sit still wear a mask the whole time while they watch their show. They’re going to fidget and take it off, and you just reassure them that no, we got to practice this so let’s put that mask back on. And you’re going to see that kids initially, they are going to fidget and they’re going to want to take it off and play with it. But after a while, if they are engaged, they’re going to learn to wear the mask.

The other thing I would recommend is – I would actually go and buy a mask that’s interesting to the child. So, nowadays you can get like superhero face coverings and princess hip face coverings. And especially for the young kids, you can let them know that their favorite superheroes wear masks. So, when they are outside and running around, they keep their masks on but when they come home, like Spiderman, they are Peter Parker at home. But when they go outside, they wear their mask the whole time. So, you can demonstrate that like even when they watch their favorite superhero or Avengers. Outside, they’re always wearing their mask and they are keeping it on. But inside, when they are at home, they can take it off. So, you can make it fun as well.

As far as the hand hygiene, again, I would practice it at home and demonstrate that when we come back from school, we wash our hands. When we go out before we go into the classroom, we’re going to use hand sanitizer and keep our hands clean. If you go to the bathroom, you wash your hands. So, it’s all about developing good habits and practicing them both at home and then if they’re comfortable at home, they’ll be comfortable at school.

Host:  What a great point and great advice, really, to practice at home especially for our littler ones because then it can become a learned behavior and second nature. So, now, we do have kids doing online in many parts of the country. How can parents help their kids to stay focused with online school and how can we talk to them about the missed social aspect of it all because it seems like that’s what my kids are really most upset about is the social aspect. Kids claim they don’t love school, but they really do, and they really love that social interaction. Please give us some advice about how we can help them stay focused with classes and reassure them that the social aspect will come back again.

Dr. Yen:  I think like many of us, school actually is pretty fun like you get to see your friends and socialize, so when you’re at home, it’s normal to miss your friends and miss all that socialization. So, the one thing I would say is even at home, you want to develop routines. So, just like you wake up to get ready for school, you want to do the same thing. You want to wake up at a certain time, you want to brush your teeth, eat a snack, eat breakfast. You want to get dressed. A lot of people just wear their pajamas and get online. But you want to develop habits where even at home, it’s going to feel like you’re going to school. Like it’s a whole routine.

And then you want to take breaks in between. You can get a snack. You can drink something and that’s the nice about being at home. You can take some breaks if it seems like you can’t focus. But I think with kids, you just have to let them know that for this certain time, we’re going to focus as best as we can, but we’ll take breaks and you can exert some energy, run around the house, run around the backyard but we’re going to come back and we’re going to focus some more. So, you give them that expectation that we’re going to focus for this certain amount of time, but afterwards, you can get a drink of water and run around. I think it will help them know that it’s not three hours that you’re going to be in front of the computer. It will be for half an hour and then you can run around and then again, half an hour and you can run around. So, you can break it up a little bit.

Now as far as the socialization, I think it’s important to let your kids know that everyone is going through this. Like everyone misses the socialization. And obviously, we have Zoom and we have Facetime, so it’s important to reach out and Facetime and Zoom your friends and important to Zoom and Facetime your parents and Facetime your family. They have those like Zoom reunions and things like that. I think that’s a good idea. For those kids that are really, really missing their friends, they can do little drive by’s where they can see their friends from their cars and scream and let them know that they’re out there and they can see them physically. They are still socially distanced but at least they can see their friends. The other thing they can do is also like you can nowadays you can play all these online games so and you can even watch movies and do Zoom movie parties. So, I think it’s important to do all of those things to reconnect.

Host:  Well I agree completely. And our school has a now pajama rule. So, kids can’t be in their pajamas and I personally, developed a no bed school rule. Cannot do school in bed. You must set up your desk. You must have your computer and a chair and a desk because otherwise, I know my kids would sit in bed and do classes. So, those were all really good bits of advice. Now, when the kids do go back to school Dr. Yen, what if they’re fearful of returning or the parents are fearful of letting their kids go back to school. And along the COVID lines, what do you recommend as far as what if the kid becomes ill? Do the parents, everybody quarantines? Do they not go back to school for that semester? Tell us a little bit about what you might envision with COVID. What if the parent gets COVID? Does the child not go to school until they know the whole family is clear? I mean it seems like it could be quite confusing. As a pediatrician, tell us what you would do if it was your family as far as COVID and worrying about actually contracting it.

Dr. Yen:  I’m a father of two teenage girls so I’m personally excited for them to return to school. I want it to be in a safe environment. But partly it’s up to me to make sure that environment is safe too. So, with my kids, the first thing I want to do with them is to communicate with them and let them know that we’re going to do everything that’s safe. We’re going to do our part. The school, the teachers, they’re going to do their part. I know that we’re all going to be a little nervous and that’s okay. But we’re going to do our best to make sure that we keep it safe and keep it clean and we’ll do our best to make sure that we limit people from getting COVID. And I think the first thing to do is let them know that like if you are feeling sick, if you feel like you have a fever, you should let me know. Kids are good at that. But even at home, you could do like temperature checks and just make sure that’s fine.

And then, when they go to school, they’re going to have their temperature checks. They are going to use hand sanitizer. There is a possibility that a child at school could catch COVID. The hope is that if we keep classroom sizes a little smaller and especially in the younger kids, they are going to be cohorted or they are going to be just in their own classroom and not going to other classrooms. So, hopefully we can limit the spread there.

If someone does get COVID in the family, the recommendation is to stay home. The kid should stay home too. You should call your pediatrician, hopefully the family member and the rest of the family can get tested. But they should stay home, the recommendation is 10 days, but we’ll see with better testing that maybe it be shorten. And now they’re still again there are still online options so even if a kid is feeling well and they have to stay home, they can still participate through online learning. So, they’re not going to miss out on the learning. They will miss out a little bit on the socialization, but the more important thing is that they are keeping their classmates and their teachers healthy.

I think the main thing is to communicate, communicate to your kids. If your kids aren’t feeling well, communicate to the teachers and school. And then lastly, communicate with your medical professional and if there is any testing that needs to be done hopefully that can be done.

Host:  Then wrap it up for us Dr. Yen. This is such an important episode. And many parents have questions because we’re not- none of us are sure what’s going on right now. Give us your best advice and what you would like us to know about our kids returning to school, about kids doing online school because really, our biggest concern is keeping our kids and our families safe at this time.

Dr. Yen:  The first thing I want people to know is that these are different times. It’s new. New for everyone. It’s going to be new for parents. It’s going to be really new for kids. It’s new for teachers and schools too. They’ve never gone through this as well. So, it’s important to be patient, important to be kind and then as far as deciding whether you should send your child to school or not, there’s no right or wrong answer. You have to sit down and figure out what’s best for your family. Whatever you choose, that’s going to be the right answer. And I wouldn’t look back and think you made a mistake. That’s not the case.

And then the second thing to understand is that especially with children right now, the data shows that kids especially less than 10, they are less likely to get a serious illness from COVID. So, I know people are afraid of their kids catching COVID but the likelihood of them getting really sick with COVID is low. Which is lucky. That being said, we want to keep staff and teachers healthy too. We’d want to all be proactive, do the important things to keep everyone around us healthy. So, get used to wearing masks. Get used to hand hygiene. Remember the distancing.

And then lastly, you want to do it in a way that you don’t give your child anxiety. So, we want to make sure that school is fun. When they return to school, we want them to have fun. We want them to be happy to see their friends, but we want to do it in a safe way. And you want to let them know that this is going to be a fun time. I don’t want you to go there and be anxious. I want you to be happy to return to school. If you are worried, if you are anxious, definitely talk to your child, reach out to your pediatrician, reach out to your teachers. But hopefully, if we all do the right things, this should work. Hopefully in the near future, COVID will be gone and everything will return to normal.

Host:  Well that is certainly the hope and thank you Dr. Yen for joining us. You are a great guest and thank you again for coming on and giving us some really important advice. And if you have concerns, we encourage you to check the Henry Mayo website at and click on the virus link at the top of the page for more information on COVID-19. And that wraps up this episode of It’s Your Health Radio with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast and all the other Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital podcasts. Until next time, I’m Melanie Cole.