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Heading back to school

Resources, FAQs and tips to help everyone stay healthy and safe this school year.

Back to school during COVID-19

As students, faculty and staff return to the classroom this fall, make sure you have the resources to navigate back-to-school season as the pandemic continues. 

Here you’ll find frequently asked questions (FAQs) and other resources you can reference anytime. Bookmark this page and check back for the latest updates.

Click the below links for additional resources, FAQs and information:


Tips for parents

Downloadable resources

Read our FAQs

Additional resources

To help keep students and staff safe and healthy, it’s best to focus on 4 main areas:

Masking

Given the spread of COVID-19 and the viral variants, the CDC recommends indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K–12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Here’s what you need to know about masks:

Why wear a mask:

To protect others:

Any mask will act as a barrier to particles that come out of your nose and mouth. You can carry COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, so wear a mask to protect everyone around you.

To protect yourself:

Masks also help to filter the air you breathe in. If someone near you sneezes or coughs, a mask will keep you from inhaling many of their respiratory particles, including viruses. That makes you less likely to get sick.

Where you should wear a mask:

Any public area, including:

  • Class
  • Libraries
  • Gyms or fitness centers
  • Common areas
  • Campus/transportation
  • Facilities around campus
  • Cafeterias

Remember: Never lay your mask down on a counter, desktop or other surface that could transmit infection.

For more information on masks, visit the CDC’s website.

Social distancing

Social distancing, also known as physical distancing, is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing means staying at least 6 feet away from other people.

Here are some tips as you resume in-person learning:

  • Follow floor markings, signs and tape set up to promote social distancing.
  • If possible, choose to use the stairs over the elevator. When the elevator is being used, limit it to two people in at a time.
  • Don’t share equipment and tools, such as phones, laptops and pencils.

Tips to stay engaged and safe:

  • Try no-touch alternatives to handshakes and high fives (think waving, placing a hand over your heart or making a peace sign).
  • Use telephone, video conferencing, email and text messaging to communicate in place of study sessions or group meetings.
    • If unavoidable, keep in-person meetings brief and in a place where everyone can keep their distance.
  • Video call with friends to stay safe and social during breaks between classes.
  • Don’t gather in crowded areas, such as the library, outside of classes and in food halls.
Handwashing

Everyone should practice handwashing to keep from getting and spreading infectious illnesses, including COVID-19.

Here are some tips to help you wash your hands properly:

  • Wash your hands often, including the backs of your hands and between your fingers, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in public areas.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, especially if you haven’t recently washed your hands.
Personal responsibility

We’re all in this together. And people without symptoms can still spread the virus — in fact, you could give COVID-19 to others, even if you don’t feel sick. To slow the spread of COVID-19, everyone has to help.

Here are some key things to help you do your part:

  • If you’re 12 or older, get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often and vigorously for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask in public. It protects other people in case you’re infected, and it also protects you.
  • Keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others, even when masked.
 

COVID-19 vaccine facts

Keep your child's health on track with well-visits and up-to-date vaccines

 
Fill out the form below and a member of our Health and Wellness team will be in touch:

Kids’ health and other tips for parents

Heading back to school after summer break is always a big adjustment, and that’s especially true as the COVID pandemic continues. We’re here to guide you through it all with health and wellness tips from our pediatricians:

 
 

Downloadable resources

The below resources are available to download and share on your social media channels or print to hang in your buildings. You can also visit our coronavirus blog for the latest in COVID-19 health and wellness.

For elementary school students:

Athletics/Student Health Toolkit

CHIP - Child Health Insurance Plan

Información en español:

 

FAQs: Back to school during COVID

Q: Where can we get safety, cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) products?

A: Listed below are two potential resources for you to consider in procuring products in your Back to Business, Back to School or Back to Health programs. These suppliers carry commonly requested PPE products, such as masks and gloves, as well as health and safety products such as hand sanitizer and more. Information provided on products and supplies is for reference only. Geisinger does not guarantee availability or quality. The choice of vendor to procure products from is entirely a buyer decision.

medline.com

stockd.com

Q. How can I protect myself, colleagues, students and their families from COVID-19 and help prevent the spread?

A: Like with the flu, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is through common-sense prevention measures:

  • Practice social distancing. Don’t shake hands, avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing and visiting public areas. Alcohol-based sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are also good options for hand hygiene.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Keep surfaces clean and disinfected at your home, workplace and school.
  • Wear a mask when you’re in public, which helps protect others.
  • If you aren’t feeling well, the only time you should leave your home is to seek medical care. The best thing you can do if you’re sick — with a bad cold, the flu or COVID-19 — is staying home and self-isolating.
  • If you can, get vaccinated. It’s free and most pharmacies offer the COVID vaccine on a walk-in basis
  • If you aren’t feeling well, the only time you should leave your home is to seek medical care. The best thing you can do if you’re sick — with a bad cold, the flu or COVID-19 — is staying home and self-isolating.

Flier: Hygiene to stay healthy

Q: Do you have recommendations for daycare facilities, such as screenings, masks, class sizes and child drop-off procedures?

A: Visit these helpful links regarding childcare and taking care of children:

Q: What is the best way to interact with students and their families at school?

A: We recommend following CDC guidelines on masking and social distancing. This includes:

  • Requiring everyone to mask before entering a building or campus
  • Limiting the number of people in a building or campus
  • Ask COVID-19 symptom screening questions of anyone who enters a building or campus
  • Having markers of 6 feet on the floors to maintain social distancing
  • Having directional traffic flows
  • Using infrared (no-touch) thermometers to add temperature checks to your screening process

Avoid group gatherings and keep lines moving at any screening stations to avoid a backup while people wait to get screened. If you have many employees and students, they can pre-screen themselves at home and confirm with a representative at your school that they’re symptom-free before coming to class.

Flier: Virtual meeting tips and tricks

Q: What are the guidelines for cleaning the school?

Q: Does HVAC spread the virus?

A: Adequate ventilation is very important, particularly in a room with many people such as a classroom. Recommendations for schools encourage strategies to increase airflow when weather allows, including opening windows and using air conditioning. There should be increased circulation with the outside air and air recirculation within the room should be minimized. For that reason, ductless or split system AC units should be turned off as they provide no outdoor air exchange. HVAC systems can be modified by an HVAC engineer per operating parameters. Further recommendations specific for schools regarding ventilation can be found at https://www.ashrae.org/technical-resources/reopening-of-schools-and-universities
Q: When giving nebulizer treatments in the school setting, should those students be separated from other students in the health office during treatment?

A: Generally, if patients with asthma get breathing treatments when they are acutely ill, they should be separated from other children. Viruses including COVID-19 can trigger asthma symptoms such as cough or wheezing. It is not clear at the present time if nebulizer treatments (where liquid medicine is given through a machine that releases medicine in vapor form that the child then breaths) causes aerosols (small mist droplets that linger in the air for a long time) which could spread COVID-19. Currently most pediatric experts are recommending meter dosed inhalers with spacer be used instead for asthma exacerbation.
Q: Can a face shield be worn instead of a mask?

A: Based on current data, face shields are not an equivalent replacement for mask. Masks should be worn as much as is feasible. Face shields do provide some protection if masks cannot be worn.
Q: If students take masks on and off, does that create more risk than leaving them on all the time? Is risk increased due to potential increase of touching their face?

A: The proper way to wear a mask is to not touch the front of the mask, and if you do, wash or sanitize your hands immediately after. The best way to protect oneself is to wear the mask as much as possible when out in public combined with frequent hand hygiene.
Q: What medical risks or concerns exist from prolonged mask wearing?

A: In children, there are very few medical reasons not to wear a mask. Young children may have a risk of choking if they are under age 2 and/or developmentally unable to remove their mask. Otherwise, children should be able to wear masks, especially asthmatics, particularly if asthma is under good control. Unless they have an acute problem breathing, all children above the age of two should wear masks. Allergic reactions to mask fabric could be a concern. If this occurs, different mask materials should be tried. Additionally, there is no evidence that masks decrease oxygen intake or increase exposure to carbon dioxide (CO2).
Q: If students are separated by 6 feet, can they remove masks?

A: The best way to protect from spread is to wear a mask AND distance 6 feet. This would be the recommended approach to have the lowest risk for transmission and should be done whenever possible. However, we recognize that is not always feasible. According to the Department of Health masking mandate:

Under what circumstances are students permitted to remove their face coverings (e.g. masks and face shields)?

Schools may allow students to remove their face coverings when students are:

  1. Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart;
  2. Seated at desks or assigned work spaces at least 6 feet apart; or
  3. Engaged in any activity at least 6 feet apart (e.g. face covering breaks, recess, etc.).
Q: Does pre-K guidance differ from daycare?

A: The same risk mitigation principles apply for both age groups. Screenings, temperature checks, masking and distancing, separating ill children, and sending them home to get tested should be followed.
Q: What are your recommendations for when an employee at school claims they can't wear a mask due a to medical condition, such as asthma?

A: Generally, employers should be providing training to employees when face coverings are distributed or required. Also, the training process should include identification of any medical issues that could interfere with wearing face coverings, such as claustrophobia, asthma, COPD or other conditions. Employers are advised to engage in the interactive process with such employees as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state and local provisions.
Q: If we provide students with welcome kits, what health related items could be included?

A: Many schools provide “welcome back” kits to returning students. Adding things like:

  • Cloth mask (could have school logo)
  • Personal digital thermometer
  • Clip on hand sanitizer (to clip to bags/backpacks)
  • Symptom reminder magnet, card or cling that they can put on their wall
  • Stylist pen to help avoid contact
  • Additional educational information as needed about new policies or things that may have changed since the last time they were on campus
  • Important campus phone numbers or websites/apps for student health, etc. may be useful in helping combat COVID-19
Q: Children develop symptoms for any number of reasons other than COVID-19. How can schools identify something other than COVID-19?

A: It is very hard to tell COVID-19 apart from other respiratory and stomach infections , including influenza or strep. Parents should keep their ill children away from school, get them tested and follow protocol for return until they have an alternative diagnosis. It is important to prevent spread of strep and influenza in our schools as well. 

  • If diagnosed with COVID-19: return 10 days from symptom onset AND 3 days without fever without antipyretics AND improvement of respiratory symptoms.
  • Symptomatic patient not tested: assume they have COVID-19 and same as above.
  • Symptomatic patient who tests negative: return when they have no fevers for 24 hours (if they have fever) AND improvement in respiratory symptoms.
  • COVID-19 exposed patient with no symptoms: return after 14 days from last exposure if patient continues to have no symptoms. If symptoms develop, patient needs to be tested and follow above protocol for those diagnosed with COVID-19.
Q: If parents refuse to take symptomatic students for testing should these students be kept out of school for 10 days (or longer if still symptomatic)?

A: The conservative approach would be to assume the child has COVID-19 and keep them from school for 10 days from the start of symptoms (with no fever for 3 days without antipyretics) and improving cough and other symptoms if there is no alternative diagnosis. This approach should be strongly considered particularly if there is some increase in community spread of COVID-19 and especially if the child has been in close contact with somebody with COVID. It can sometimes take several weeks for a cough to fully resolve. These children do not need to be out of school waiting for that resolution. The virus is long gone and these children would not be considered infectious.
Q: Where can I find the current models of how many cases are in my area?

A: Here are some helpful resources with models for COVID-19 in your area:

Q: When teaching young children, a teacher's mouth needs to be visible for effective instruction. Is it okay to use a face shield instead of a mask during instruction?

A: Face masks are our primary recommendation for a face covering to protection, particularly if the wearer is coughing or sneezing. However, face shields can also provide protection from outgoing droplets and can be considered an equivalent, if they completely cover the nose and mouth. They do have limitations for incoming particles, so face masks are preferred, but face shields can also serve as protection and can be an acceptable alternative for anyone unable to tolerate a mask, or in circumstances where the speaker's lip movements must be visible.
Q: Is there any assistance available to pay for COVID-19 testing?

A: Many insurances, including Geisinger Health Plan, are covering the cost of diagnostic testing for COVID-19.