Back-to-School COVID-19 Digital Toolkit

As a new school year begins, safety around COVID-19 is foremost on the minds of many students, parents and educators.

At Essentia Health, we are happy to provide this back-to-school digital toolkit that contains resources for navigating those concerns. We firmly believe that children should be in school, when they can be there safely. So please check out some of the content on this page, which we’ve prepared for you to make the return to school — however that may look for you and your family — as safe as it can be.

Is it safe for my child to return to school?

For many of us, this is a deeply personal and difficult decision to make. At Essentia, we agree that the best place for children to be is in school when they can be there safely.

Because this pandemic is ever-changing, there is no “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Each region is different, and each school is different. Educators and school administrators must be judicious in developing thoughtful and safe plans for bringing students back to their campuses.

The CDC offers a tool to assist families and parents in deciding if sending their child back to school in-person is the right decision for their child.

Below you’ll find a number of strategies to help keep your child safe, simple things we’ve all heard of by now, like wearing a mask, socially distancing, washing your hands frequently and staying home when you’re sick.

Wearing a Mask

Why is it important to wear a mask?

When worn properly and consistently, face masks are one of the best tools we have to protect against COVID. This virus is spread via respiratory droplets by people of all ages, and masks restrict the travel of those droplets. Many with COVID are asymptomatic, so you could unknowingly have the virus. This means that wearing a mask protects those around you.

At what age should children wear masks?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a mask for anyone age 2 and older, especially in public settings where social distancing isn’t always practical.

Per the Minnesota Department of Health, “face coverings are generally required for all students, staff and other people present in any kindergarten through grade 12 school buildings or district offices or riding on school transportation vehicles. To provide a consistent, safe environment for students and staff, this requirement applies equally to kindergarteners, even those aged 5 or under.” Please check with your school to learn more about its mask policy.

What kind of mask should my child wear?

Homemade or cloth face coverings are sufficient for most people, according to the AAP. Pleated masks, with elastic, often are best for kids. High-risk or immunocompromised children should consult their primary care physician.

What is the proper way to put on and wear a mask?

A mask should cover both your mouth and nose. It should fit snugly against the sides of your face, and be secured under your chin, but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable; you should be able to breathe without issue. Please remember to wash your hands before putting on your mask and avoid touching it once it’s on your face.

How do I get my child used to wearing a mask during the school day?

Wearing a mask continuously can be uncomfortable for adults and can be even more daunting for children. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:

  • Give them choices. Let your child select the mask(s) he or she will wear just like you would a pair of shoes or a sweatshirt, to ensure a better chance of acceptance.
  • Get them into practice. Have your child practice wearing their mask in the days and weeks before returning to school.
  • Explain why they’re being asked to wear a mask. An age-appropriate explanation of COVID will help them understand the “why” and may clear up any questions they continue to grapple with.
  • Practice what you preach. Your child will be more inclined to wear a mask if they see mom and dad doing so without complaint.

How do I properly clean my child’s mask and how often?

Wearing a mask is only half the battle; equally important is to make sure that mask is clean and sanitary. The CDC recommends washing your mask after each use.

Using a Washer and Dryer

  • Washing: Use the warmest water setting allotted for the cloth with which the mask is made of to wash the mask.
  • Drying: Use the highest heat setting to dry the mask.

Washing and Drying by Hand

Social Distancing

What does social distancing look like?

When infected droplets are unable to pass from person to person via sneezing, coughing or talking, COVID has fewer potential targets. The CDC says limiting face-to-face contact is the best way to slow the spread. Social, or physical, distancing guidelines suggest maintaining a space of six feet between individuals in public settings, both inside and outside. Six feet is equal to about two arms’ length.

What can we do to make riding the bus safer?

Social distancing also applies on the bus. The AAP highlights several steps that schools can take to facilitate this, including minimizing the number of people on the bus and using tape to show students where to sit. Other suggestions are to enforce assigned seating, requiring masks and keeping windows open (weather permitting). Check with your school to learn about its bus policy.

How will children maintain social distance during activities outside the classroom?

Social-distancing standards should be maintained outside the classroom as much as possible. This is more challenging during activities like recess or physical education, as well as in hallways. The AAP recommends several strategies for students and schools alike.

Your school will have policies to follow regarding activities where social distancing may be difficult. It’s important to remember to wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands. Check with your school to learn about their specific policies.

Other Safety Measures

What other measures can I take to help protect my child?

As students return to school, there are several precautions they can take to reduce their risk of infection. Besides wearing a mask and practicing social distancing whenever possible, frequent hand-washing is encouraged, as is staying home when sick. Students also should avoid sharing objects such as books or water bottles with their classmates.

The CDC provides an extensive checklist that will help you plan for in-person classes by storing relevant information — school contacts, your local testing sites, vaccination histories — in one location.

Medical Concerns

If my child has an underlying medical condition, is it safe to attend school in-person?

While we can’t say definitively which underlying medical conditions leave people more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID, we do know that certain conditions elevate one’s risk. These include — but are not limited to — diabetes, asthma and obesity.

According to the federal government: “Some data on children reported that the majority who needed hospitalization for COVID-19 had at least one underlying medical condition. The most common underlying conditions reported among children with COVID-19 include chronic lung disease (including asthma), heart disease and conditions that weaken the immune system.”

For people with these underlying medical conditions, the best way to stay safe is to limit interactions with others. Parents should consult their child’s primary care physician for further guidance.

What should I do if someone at my child’s school tests positive for COVID?

Schools are expected to have well-defined processes in place to swiftly respond to a positive test. We encourage you to wait for guidance from your child’s school. If, however, you are not comfortable with that, distance learning is an option at many schools. Before the year starts, know which items you will need for distance learning and make sure you have a plan in place that allows your child to effectively transition to distance learning.

Should my child stay home if they have a cold or symptoms similar to those of COVID?

If your child is sick, keep him home. But because many of the symptoms consistent with COVID overlap with those of other viral illnesses like a cold or flu (fatigue, congestion, body aches, etc.), we recommend consulting your child’s primary care physician for further guidance. The doctor will help you decide if your child can recover at home, should come in to be tested or would benefit from a virtual video visit.