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Diverse group of elementary school kids go back to school wearing masks

Back-to-School Health Tips for Students in the Age of COVID-19

By Dr. Monica Baker, Tidewater Children’s Associates

Going back to school can bring a mix of excitement and anxiety, even during a normal year. Throw a COVID-19 pandemic into the mix, and those feelings become even more intense. Some students who spent last year attending school virtually or using a hybrid model may need to adjust to yet a new normal.

Parents and other adults can help ease the transition by helping children feel prepared, protected, and flexible in taking on a new year.


Before school starts, make sure students are up-to-date on their vaccinations, both those required by the Virginia Department of Health for school entry, and those recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In Virginia, there are some new requirements this year, which include vaccines to protect against meningitis, HPV, and hepatitis A. Children will be required to get two vaccinations against hepatitis A prior to kindergarten. In the past, only one vaccination was required. Two doses of meningococcal vaccine, which protects teens from a particularly dangerous form of meningitis, will also be required – one before the start of 7th grade, and a second dose before the start of 12th grade. The second dose before 12th grade is new.

The HPV vaccine will be required for students entering the 7th grade. A parent or guardian has the option to elect for their child not to receive the HPV vaccine after reviewing educational materials from the Board of Health.

We also recommend getting a flu vaccine in the fall, which will be especially important this season because the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms.

Check in with your pediatrician for a school physical to ensure your child's vision, cognitive, physical and emotional health are addressed before school begins.

COVID-19 Precautions

If your child is eligible for the vaccine against COVID-19, we recommend that safety measure, along with getting the vaccine for anyone in your family who is eligible. Currently, children 12 and older can receive a vaccine, and clinical trials are underway for younger ages, with the expectation they will be able to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Also, the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending universal masking in school for all students 2 and older, whether they are vaccinated or not.

Make sure your child has plenty of masks to get through the school day, including back-up masks in case a mask is misplaced or damaged. Label masks with your child’s name to keep masks from getting mixed up with others.

Go over precautionary measures with your child, such as physical distancing and using good hand hygiene.

When to Stay Home

You should monitor your child each day for signs of COVID-19. These include:

  • Fever.
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose.
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Poor appetite.
  • New loss of taste or smell.
  • Belly pain.
  • Pink eye.

To limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as other germs, children should stay home from school and other activities if they have any signs of illness or a fever. Contact your pediatrician if you have questions.

Action Plan for COVID-19 Exposure

  • Make sure that your emergency contact list and school pickup and drop-off information is current at school. If that list includes anyone who is at risk of illness, consider adding an alternate contact.
  • Find out how your school will communicate with families when a positive case or exposure to someone with COVID-19 happens and how they plan to maintain student privacy.
  • Plan ahead for periods of quarantine or school closures. Schools may close if COVID-19 is spreading more in your community or if multiple children or staff test positive. Your child may also need to stay home if he or she is exposed to a close contact with COVID-19.

Mental Health

  • Limit your child’s exposure to controversial or sensational information on media. Learn what preparation and precautions will be present at their school and share that information with them in an age-appropriate way.
  • When transitioning back to school and school-related activities, notice what wonders, worries, and unspoken messages your child is trying to share. Your child may be feeling excited, anxious, curious, cautious, or any number of things when it comes to heading back to school this fall. Kids can’t always put into words what concerns they have. Pay attention to their actions, moods, and body language and open up conversation by providing assurance that their feelings are legitimate and you are there to listen and help.
  • Go through scenarios of different things that could come up, such as finding a locker, figuring out a schedule, or going to lunch. Remind your child that they can always ask someone for help in the school setting. Offer ways for them to share concerns with you.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.