Back to School : Pandemic Edition.

I’m pretty sure the number one spoken word in 2020 is “unprecedented”. And it’s true, aside from eating dinner with my immediate family…. none of my daily activities are “normal”. Trips to the grocery store, work, book club (what’s up Zoom!) even off leash dog park walks were weird for a while. Its hard to wrap your head around just how much has changed in the last 6 months. YES, we’ve been in this for 6 months!! It’s also hard to wrap your head around the fact that we’re probably in this for the next 12-18 months…. maybe even longer. We’ve had to come to terms with the fact that while our lives aren’t the “normal” we know and love, they’re our “temporary abnormal”.

But what does that even mean? Essentially, we have to carry on with life BUT with restrictions in place. That means, yes you can still see your friends, but if they’re not part of your cohort family stay 2 meters apart. By now most of us know that Yes, you can go out for dinner, but you have to wear a mask while you’re not eating or drinking. Yes, you can go shopping, but you have to wear a mask the entire time. Yes, you can get married, or have a bridal shower, but you have to follow all public health recommendations. And there are many. And finally, yes, you can go to school, daycare or pre-school, but there’s some rules there too. It’s really important to remember that these public health rules are here to protect us, and that it’s in our best interest to follow them. The point isn’t to restrict your civil liberties, but to keep you safe.

So, what does this look as summer draws to a close and school starts back up again? Maybe you’re choosing to homeschool, maybe you’re choosing to send your kids back, and maybe that decision was made for you. Regardless, we know it wasn’t an easy choice to make, so we’re going to break the return to school (or daycare or activities!) down for you, to hopefully ease some of the very warranted anxiety you might be experiencing.

1. Cohorts

Classes are encouraged to be cohorted, meaning they won’t interact with other classes. Essentially the cohort will be made up of a group of students and staff that only interact with each other. This serves two main purposes: 1. The risk of transmission decreases by limiting the exposure to other people, and 2. Contact tracing is made easier in the event that a positive case was to be identified.

2. Masks

If your child is in grades 3-12, non-medical face masks will be mandatory in shared areas of the school (think a trip to the bathroom, walking between classes, or while on the school bus). They are not required while seated in the classroom, provided they distance can be maintained between students. Activities that require close contact will be kept to a minimum, but masks will be required while these are occurring.

The Government Of Alberta has provided two reusable face masks per student, but it might be advisable to have a few more on deck, so you don’t have to wash those two masks every night! I know in our household we can blow through quite a few in just one day of doing errands.

New recommendations from Alberta Health Services say that non-medical masks worn in the community setting maybe be worn more than once (in a single day) prior to needing to be laundered or thrown into the garbage provided:

1. The mask is not visibly soiled or wet

2. Has been removed with clean hands, by the straps only

3. Is placed with the outside of the mask down onto a clean (and wipeable) surface or into a clean breathable bag (ie paper for a disposal option or a cloth bag for a reusable option. Cloth bags will need to be laundered with masks).

4. Is put back onto the face with clean hands and without touching the front of the mask. Again handle by the straps only.

We’ve seen a lot of mask clips and lanyards pop up on social media recently, and while they’re very cute and we do see the appeal from a practical perspective, from a medical perspective, they’re not advisable. When we take off our masks we want to place them down on to a surface that can either be cleaned or be disposed of. We do not want the front of the mask touching us. Our masks are barriers, so anything that we have potentially just filtered out would now be on the front of your shirt. Again, really want I emphasize that we are handling masks by the ties or straps only, and that hands must be cleaned prior to placing and/or removing a mask.

At the end of the day, or when the mask has become soiled or wet, it’s time to throw that mask out, or to put it into a sealed container or bag to be washed.

We all know that hot soapy water is the best way to kill germs, but best thing you can do to ensure the integrity of the mask is maintained, is to follow the manufacturers instructions. We personally chose masks that were easily laundered in hot soapy water, and that could also go through a cycle in the dryer. Always wash with soapy water, and ensure that you are using the appropriate detergent for the temperature of water you intend to use so that it is most effective.

We love using mesh laundry bags to prevent the masks from twisting and the straps from catching or snagging on other laundry. Regardless of whether you’re using a mesh bag or tossing directly into the drum, try handle the masks as little as possible, and wash your hands once they’ve been placed in the machine. Masks should also be thoroughly dried prior to use. Again, follow your manufacturers instructions for how best to dry your mask.

3. Physical distancing

To the best of their ability, schools will arrange to have children’s individual desks placed 2 meters apart. If this is not possible, desks will be arranged so that children are not facing each other. It’s also important to be realistic and acknowledge that there are some instances (school buses, physical activities) where social distancing can not be maintained. In these instances, there will be a focus on hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

How does this affect you at home?! It’s a good idea to practice these things at home before school starts. Demonstrate how to sneeze or cough into your elbow, and when it’s appropriate to use hand hygiene (i.e, after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose).

For example, Weston (my, MacKenzie’s, son) is only 2, but we’ve ¬†been working on this a lot at home by roll modelling good respiratory etiquette! He thinks is so fun to “cough” and sneeze into his hands and loves to say “bless you!” When we sneeze. He is also making his nurse mama so proud by being an expert at hand washing (alright, the Wiggles! might have helped with this one…)

4. Frequent surface cleaning and hand sanitizing

Schools are upping their surface cleaning practices, focusing on high touch areas, such as door handles, desks, vending machines, washrooms, water fountains etc. Water fountains can remain open for use, but students will be encouraged to bring a water bottle that they can fill rather than drinking directly from the fountain. Look for a drinking bottle that is reusable, dishwasher safe, and that the exterior can be safely wiped between daily washes.

Students will be required to sanitize upon school entry and exit. Teachers will supervise use of hand sanitizer, especially in younger age groups.

Depending on the age of your child, you may chose to send a hand sanitizer to school with them. If you chose to do this, your child should be old enough to independently use the product. That is, they should be aware of how it’s applied, and that is not to be ingested etc. Choose a kid safe hand sanitizer (look for the classic: “Pediatrician approved/recommended” seal of approval. We love BabyBum and HelloBello hand sanitizer sprays, both of which are affordable and can be purchased at Superstore (BuyBuyBaby, and Amazon) and Honest Company spray which can be purchased through their website!

5. Life at home

You’re probably also wondering what the impact of back to school will have on your home life…. mainly your laundry. One of the questions I’ve been asked recently is “do I need to bring an extra pair of clothes for my kids to change into in the car?!”. There has been a TON of research around how COVID is transmitted. The main way is through respiratory droplets expelled during coughing, sneezing, heavy breathing (think exercising) singing and even talking. This is where masks and distancing become so important. The second, and less likely source, is through contact with fomites (hard surfaces such as elevator buttons and door handles) and subsequent contact with a mucus membrane (nose, eyes, mouth) prior to hand washing. So far the evidence does NOT point to clothing being a major vector for transmission. Meaning, your kids (and you!) likely are not carrying COVID on your clothes. That said- if having your kids change clothes in the car would make you more comfortable then do it! What’s most important is that when the kids do change their clothes, that you’re not shaking them out or “sniff testing” anything. This could, in theory, expel any COVID particles that may have been present into the air. Just simply toss into the laundry basket or right into the machine. Again, follow the tag instructions for washing each item (always at the hottest temperature they can tolerate!) and ensure you are using a detergent that’s appropriate for the temperature of water you are washing your clothes in. Always wash your hands after handling the clothing, prior to touching the dials and buttons on the machine and especially before moving onto another activity. Regular cleansing of your laundry baskets is ALWAYS a good idea!!

In my (MacKenzie’s) household, Weston wears his clothes home from daycare. Often times, he’s in those clothes until bath time. When we do strip him down, his clothes from the day are immediately placed in his laundry basket, and are not worn again until washed (even if by some miracle they aren’t visibly soiled!). We focus on hand hygiene at pick up from daycare (a quick spritz of sanitizer when I’m loading him into his car seat) and hand washing with soap and water as soon as we walk in the door. We’ve also upped our disinfecting practices at home. Focusing on high touch surfaces like toys, highchair, door handles, light switches etc.

6. Kids Gear

So what about lunch boxes (water bottles) and backpacks?! Similarly to choosing a mask, choose a backpack and lunchbox they can be easily laundered on a weekly basis and easily wiped daily/ between uses. Our daycares policy is to keep the back packs AT daycare, and they they can come home in the weekends to be restocked with fresh changes of clothes. When the backpack comes home on Fridays I toss it in the wash, along with all three of our lunch bags. As I previously mentioned, choose a reusable water bottle that can be washed in the machine (cause the last thing you need is another dish to hand wash….) and can be wiped between uses.

This is just a quick overview and summation of the Government’s School re-entry Plan. To read the plan in its entirety, visit https://open.alberta.ca/publications/covid-19-information-guidance-school-re-entry-scenario-1.

Please do don’t hesitate to reach out if you have more questions or concerns. We wish you a happy and healthy school year ahead.

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