Back from school, first thing kids should do: Wash hands

Sanford infectious disease specialist gives advice on supplies and masks, too

A girl works on homework at the kitchen table while her mom stands at the sink after her daughter comes home from school

As school starts this fall, parents may be wondering: What should we do when the kids come home each day?

COVID-19 shut the school doors early this spring and sent children and teachers online. Now as schools open with new precautions to keep students and staff safe, there are a few simple things to keep in mind on the homefront, too, said Avish Nagpal, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health.

Back-from-school routines

“What works well is washing your hands as soon as you enter the house and washing your face,” Dr. Nagpal said. “Those are the things that I think have more impact in preventing disease transmission.”

Leaving shoes, coats, backpacks or school supplies in a separate area or outside the main part of the house is an option, but Dr. Nagpal doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“We are finding that the virus doesn’t thrive on surfaces very well,” he said. “I’m sure some of the spread happens that way. But most of the spread happens with direct close contact inside a confined space.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “close contact” as being within 6 feet of another person for a total of 15 minutes or more — shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.

Related: COVID-19 FAQs: Can the coronavirus live on surfaces?

Dr. Nagpal considers hand and face washing to be more practical than a shower immediately when kids walk in the door. They should still shower and change clothes daily, however.

Face mask tips

One new thing likely coming home from school regularly with kids this year is their face mask. Ideally, these masks should be washed every day. But Dr. Nagpal understands this may not be practical either. He suggests keeping five or six for each child and saving them up to wash in one laundry load.

Dr. Nagpal also said that if a cloth mask isn’t soiled or wet or deterioriating in any way, it could be used a second day before washing. At the beginning of the pandemic, when some clinical masks were in short supply and had to be rationed, they were worn for multiple days. That extra use didn’t result in an increased risk of infection, he said.

“A mask will not offer you 100% protection, but even if it offers 50% protection, you’ve cut your risk of transmission in half,” Dr. Nagpal said. “So wearing a mask is important, and you don’t have to turn your life upside down by washing it every minute or every hour of the day, or after every adventure outside.”

Also, as a parent sending his own children back to school, Dr. Nagpal has a tip for other parents frustrated by not being able to find disinfectant wipes to fulfill school supply lists.

Try sending paper towels and cleaner with your child instead, he suggested. “Instead of using the wipes, which are not really available in the market right now, they can just use a paper towel to clean their desks once a day.”

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Posted In Back to School, Children's, Coronavirus