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Column originally published Aug 25, 2020

Don’t Panic About Children Going Back To School During Pandemic

Question: We are afraid to send our children to school in September, in the middle of the pandemic. Our thirteen-year-old son has diabetes; we are struggling to keep it under control. Our eight-year-old daughter has allergy and asthma. I am concerned that her teacher will think that she has the Covid-19 virus when she sneezes and coughs. I am also looking after my mother who lives by herself down the road. I am worried that our children can bring the virus home, and pass it onto my mother. Am I overreacting?


You are not overreacting at all. This pandemic has turned our world upside down. Although the virus is not as rampant here as in other provinces or countries, a slip in our personal decision or public policy can lead to large outbreaks. We all have to do our part to keep everyone safe.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was lockdown everywhere; only essential workers were allowed to go to work. We don’t want to get back to that situation. At one point, masks were not recommended; this has changed recently, masks are recommended indoors and whenever we cannot stay 2 meters (or 6 feet) apart from each other. Physical distancing is important to reduce the spread of pandemic virus. Rules and policies can change according to scientific evidence and experience from other countries.

Other things haven’t changed. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water, or use of hand-sanitizer, can reduce germs on our hands, including the pandemic virus. If we sneeze or cough, don’t cover our face with the hands; cough into the elbow area. If we use tissue, dispose of it properly, and wash our hands (or use hand-sanitizer) right away.

Recently, ventilation system has come under scrutiny in the spread of pandemic virus. Many places are working to upgrade their system, increase the airflow, and install equipment to kill the virus in the air. Further scientific proof is still pending.

Since the summer, many children’s activities have moved outdoors; but with fall and winter coming, we need to keep everyone safe inside. Wearing masks indoors has become mandatory in stores, and should be in school also. Even young children can be trained to wear masks. You can start by training your children to do that even at home, so that they are used to wearing them for long periods of time. Many parts of school are too crowded for proper distancing; the only way is to keep everyone safe is to have the masks on most of the time.

Our school boards are planning to hire more school bus drivers, educators, and janitors. Hopefully, this will allow proper distancing on school buses and classrooms. If you live reasonably close to their school, have your children walk to school when weather permits. It is good exercise, and they can breathe some fresh air.

Public health officials have done an excellent job in providing guidance to reduce transmission of the pandemic virus. It is the responsibility of all of us to do our part to keep ourselves safe, as well as those around us. If you notice anything in your children’s school, or your workplace, is unsafe, you should inform those responsible about your concerns. Avoid going to parties or large gatherings, pandemic virus spreads easily when lots of people get together.

In the meantime, help your son to improve his diabetic control: vigilant blood sugar tests, regular mealtime, calculating and giving insulin, as well as exercise and sleep. Your daughter may need allergy medicine and nose spray to control her allergies, as well as preventative inhalers to keep asthma under control and avoid flareups. These preventative measures will avoid suspicion that she may be sick with the pandemic virus. Keeping them healthy will also reduce the chance of serious illness from the pandemic virus.

When you go to visit your mother, you should wash your hands right away, and keep the mask on the whole time when you are there. Don’t visit if you feel that you are sick. We need to keep our seniors healthy because they are at higher risk of serious infection.

Our government has developed a smartphone app for contact tracing. Download the app on all the smartphones; the more people use the app, the more effective it is to limit the spread of pandemic virus. There is too much information on the internet, with lots of misinformation. I would suggest that you read those from your local officials and trusted media.

In this pandemic situation, it is not so much our individual rights that is important. It is the safety of our family, our community, and our country that is more important. We are in this together.