Parents, you asked, and we answered. As you get ready to send your kids back into the classroom for a new school year, we understand there are many questions about where thing stand with COVID-19 and how we can make sure in-person learning is as safe as possible.

When can kids under 12 be vaccinated?

The FDA is currently running and expanding clinical trials for age groups 6 months – 11 years. At this point in time, we have heard that the trials for children aged 5 -11 may be completed sometime in early to mid winter of 2021-2022.

What air filters would you recommend for school classrooms?

Improving ventilation can reduce the number of virus particles in the air. Along with other preventive strategies, including wearing a well-fitting, multi-layered mask, bringing fresh outdoor air into a building helps keep virus particles from concentrating inside. This can be done by opening multiple doors and windows, using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows, or making changes to the HVAC or air filtration systems. Great information about classroom environments can be found here.

What to look for in an effective mask?

There are many types of masks you can use to protect yourself and others from getting and spreading COVID-19. When choosing a cloth mask, choose one that fits snugly, has multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric, includes a nose wire, and is able to block light when held up to a bright light source. When choosing a disposable mask, be sure the description indicates it has multiple layer of non-woven material and that it has a nose wire. Learn more about effective masks in the CDC’s mask guide.

I have a 5 year old. I’m afraid of Delta spreading easily among the unvaccinated littles at school?

Lots of research suggests that with layered mitigation strategies, we are able to control the rate of transmission in the school setting. Masks are particularly important for limiting spread, which is why we strongly encourage all staff, teachers, and students to be fully masked indoors regardless of vaccinations status in our Fall Operating Guidance document.

Should kids mask at recess? Generally, they like to play close together.

Per the current order, people ages 2 and older must mask up when in indoor public spaces. We strongly recommend also masking up at indoor private gatherings and in crowded outdoor spaces where distancing cannot be maintained, which is also in line with CDC recommendations. This is going to be a cost benefit analysis that each school will have to complete. The benefits of allowing students to unmask during recess are large, but at the same time the risk of transmission increases as well. Depending on the school’s policy this may be an area where you and your family will have to assess risk and determine your comfort with going mask free.

Does physical distancing need to be a priority if students and staff are masked?

Research from the school environment shows that if universal masking is implemented in K-12 settings, students can be closer than 6’ apart. 6’ is still the ideal distance, but if it is causing logistical or programmatic issues for the school to operate, then shortening the distance is allowable.

I’m afraid my young child won’t keep a mask on for 9 hours a day. Why is this important?

The more time that a child can be masked throughout the day, the lower the risk of transmission. We recognize the inherent challenges this will bring for younger students. Layering prevention strategies (masking, distancing, ventilation, screening testing, etc.) will allow for the greatest protection against transmission and will help to account for the gaps in mask wearing when they do occur.

Will vaccinated kids have to quarantine if they are in close contact with someone infected?

Current CDC guidance states that a vaccinated person who becomes a close contact should get tested 3-5 days after exposure, and should wear a mask for 14 days following their exposure. They do not have to quarantine.

What to do about lunchrooms where masks can’t be worn?

When masks can’t be worn throughout the school day, CDC recommends ensuring that students are 6 feet apart from each other and in well ventilated areas. Lunchrooms may look different this coming school year based on spacing accommodations.

Why aren’t all schools offering a virtual option for elementary students with the Delta variant on the rise?

CDC is strongly encouraging students to return to in-person schooling wherever possible. We have seen dramatic increases in mental health, substance use, truancy, and learning stalls throughout the past school year. We also know that schools provide incredible holistic services to our families (mental health, food assistance), and want to prioritize in-person learning as long as we know it’s safe. Schools and childcare facilities are encouraged to follow the guidelines we have created which include layered mitigation strategies to support a return to an in-person learning environment that is safe, though not risk-free.

How safe is daycare with only a mask mandate?

The best way we can protect kids under 12 right now is through the vaccination of adults around them. Dane County has a high vaccination rate, which has been essential at keeping kids ineligible for vaccine safe. One question to help assess safety in childcare settings is to understand the level of vaccination among the adults working there.

At the same time, the version of COVID circulating in our community right now—Delta—is much easier to transmit, and is more effective at breaking through vaccine protection than earlier versions of COVID. Breakthrough cases are when you test positive even if vaccinated. Although the COVID-19 vaccines are very effective, no vaccine is 100% effective. We are seeing in communities with higher vaccination rates, like Dane County, the number of breakthrough cases will be higher simply because the majority of residents are vaccinated. However, the risk of severe illness and their risk of dying due to COVID-19 are much lower. This is why we need the extra shield of masks right now. The more COVID circulating in a community, the more opportunities people will have to encounter it. When the levels of COVID decrease, there are fewer opportunities, and the overall risk level decreases. The CDC tracks COVID levels in our county, and this is presented on the People page of the Dane County COVID dashboard.

We tend to see cases increase in children when overall cases increase in our community, which includes cases within childcare centers. When cases decrease, we see fewer of these instances. Weighing the safety of childcare during the ups and downs of COVID is challenging and frustrating. The data inputs PHMDC provides (dashboard, weekly data snapshots, blog posts) aim to assist community members in their decision-making process, but data are only one input.

How risky is returning to work If you have a child currently ineligible to be vaccinated in your home?

It depends entirely on your work environment and the health and safety protocols that are being implemented. Similar to schools, we want to make sure that we are layering prevention strategies in the workplace to ensure proper masking, distancing, and ventilation for employees. Getting everyone vaccinated is our most useful tool against COVID-19. Our blog post outlines considerations for parents of unvaccinated children.

Should we allow kiddos to participate in extracurricular activities?

Extracurricular activities should abide by the same set of COVID policies as the K-12 environment. The positive benefits of having kids participate in extracurricular activities may not be worth the risk of COVID transmission for some families. This will be a decision that you have to make for yourselves.

Is 3 feet enough space? Can you focus on teaching outside? (weather permitting)

Research shows that in a K-12 setting, 3’ of distance is adequate as long as other prevention strategies are in place.

If I already had COVID, how long am I immune for? Why do I need to get the vaccine if I’ve had COVID and didn’t get that sick?

You are considered immune for 90 days following a positive COVID test. You still need to get vaccinated even if you already had COVID and didn’t get sick. This virus can mutate and change shape, which is why vaccination is our best protection against future infection.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.