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A new way to school for our children: staying safe in the new normal

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Until a vaccination for COVID-19 is found, everybody must continue social distancing to prevent a second wave of the disease. This is particularly important as children start their new school term.
  • Encourage personal hygiene among children by teaching them the importance of frequently washing their hands and not touching their faces, including the eyes and mouth, due to the increased risk of infection.
  • Receiving the influenza vaccination can build immunity and reduce the risk of respiratory infections, which is important because COVID-19 is also an infection that affects the lungs and respiratory tract. Preventing two infections from attacking your respiratory tract at the same time can help keep you safe.

 

The COVID-19 situation in Thailand has improved significantly, with many shopping centers once more open for business, giving people the opportunity to get out of the house. However, it is vital that everyone strictly adhere to social distancing measures when venturing out to keep themselves and others safe. It is also an exciting time for children, as they await their school reopening and the chance to meet up with friends and teachers they have not seen in a long time. Because there is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, parents may feel uneasy about preparing their children for the return to school. There has been news from neighboring countries of children who have gone back to school only to contact COVID-19 and become part of a second wave of the disease. So what can parents do to help keep their children safe?

Whether we are talking about COVID-19 or any other infectious disease, parents must understand and implement preventive measures. There are often outbreaks of infections or diseases whenever a school reopens after its annual break. Such infections traditionally include influenza, dengue fever, RSV, and hand, foot and mouth disease. Preventive measures, which can keep both parents and their children free from illness and disease, remain of paramount importance.

The new normal and children

Preventing the contact of disease is no different for children than it is for adults, although infants may not realise the importance of what they are being asked to do. Constant reminders and encouragement from their elders, until the positive behavior becomes a habit, may be necessary to ensure children play their part in the new normal, whether at school, with friends or out in public. In this way, they will eventually be able to maintain their happiness while staying free from disease. Measures to follow include:

  • Ensure social distancing by remaining at least 1-2 meters apart from other students and teachers, because there is no effective way to tell where bacteria and germs may be present. This is what is meant by implementing a new way of life with physical distancing.
  • Sit apart while eating. Food shields and separation boards, like those found in shopping centers, provide protection against coughs, sneezes and airborne saliva.
  • Keep a safe distance when standing in line.
  • Ensure personal hygiene is maintained by frequently washing hands.
  • Do not touch your face, especially the mouth and eyes, as a virus could be present on your hands without your knowledge.
  • Teach children to wear a mask at all times, especially in classrooms which are often air-conditioned and lack a steady air flow.
  • If a child has symptoms, such as a fever of over 37.5⁰ Celsius, a runny nose, and/or cough, they should stay away from their classmates and inform a teacher who can remove them from class and request the child’s parents to take them to the hospital for a thorough diagnosis.

However, as we know all too well, children enjoy getting together and playing with their friends, making it essential that we teach them how to stay safe and try to keep them occupied in other ways.

Wearing a mask and face shield in school

Wearing a face mask—whether it is a cloth mask or surgical mask—is considered the most effective form of prevention. Wearing a face shield on its own does not offer the same level of protection because the opening at the bottom provides a gap through which germs can escape or enter. Thus, if only one of these can be worn, a cloth or surgical mask is the safest option. However, if both are available they should be worn together in order to provide the most effective protection possible.

How can schools protect their students?

Schools are considered public spaces, so they should implement measures aimed at keeping their students as safe as possible:

  • Maintain a suitable distance when lining students up, whether it be for the national anthem or to enter classrooms.
  • Place markers on the floor where lines are formed, including the lunch area, stationery store, and café, to ensure social distancing is maintained.
  • Implement regular hand washing and disinfecting.
  • Ensure students and teachers wear masks at all times.
  • Organise classroom tables and chairs to maintain a distance of at least 1-2 meters between students. Avoid putting tables together for group work and ensure children are not facing closely to one another.
  • Schools may need to set up special public health boards to manage the situation and ensure measures are adhered to. They should consider placing signage throughout the school grounds, and regularly communicating safety measures to parents, guardians and children.
  • For children in kindergarten, teachers should be taking them to wash their hands before and after eating, as well as after classroom activities. There will need to be a particular focus on ensuring these children wear their masks at all times.

 Boost your child’s immunity

  • The influenza vaccine is recommended for children because, similarly to COVID-19, influenza is an infection that affects the lungs and respiratory tract. By building immunity to the flu, we can keep the respiratory system strong in case the child subsequently suffers from COVID-19.
  • All children should receive the full complement of basic essential vaccinations, including the IPD vaccine and influenza vaccine, as these will strengthen their overall immunity to disease.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Get plenty of rest, including at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day.

Maintaining childhood development during the COVID-19 era

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, but this has also resulted in more time to spend with their children. During this time, when many schools are closed and travel is not possible, parents can maintain childhood development by adhering to the following advice:

  • Encourage children to maintain a routine while at home, including waking up at a reasonable hour, bathing, brushing teeth, dressing, eating regularly, helping with the housework, playing sports and partaking in family activities. Such activities should take place at designated times of the day or as close to those times as possible.
  • Set aside family time each day.
  • Young infants should be taking part in activities aimed at developing a comprehensive range of skills, such as gross and fine motor skills, communication skills, independence, self-help skills and social skills. These may involve play or spending time with family members. Electronic device usage should be limited as this can have a detrimental effect on a child’s health and increase the chance of developing a screen addiction.
  • Parents may wish to take older children along when grocery shopping, asking them to read product details or work out discounts in order to aid their reading and mental calculation skills. Going out will also help them get into the habit of wearing a mask and frequently washing their hands.
  • Some schools offer online tutoring or home schooling, which requires parents to be available and assist their children.

The new normal will require all of us to adjust our behaviors as the world around us changes, but this can be beneficial in helping our children stay fit, healthy and free from illness.


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