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Get ready to pack your back-to-school pencils, binders and ... hand sanitizer?
While some schools and universities are opting for remote learning or a hybrid of in-person and online sessions, others are pushing ahead with in-person classes – with proper sanitation protocols, of course. Social distancing markings, COVID program coordinators and smaller class sizes are only a few of the reflections of the pandemic-era classroom experience.
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In the world of bottle recycling, Michigan has legendary status.The state is one of only two that offers 10 cents for returned bottles and cans.However, retailers were advised to stop accepting returns, due to fears that these containers could spread the coronavirus.Residents in Michigan return about 90% of their bottles annually, and they haven't stopped saving them.The number of unredeemed beverage containers is growing by 70 million every week. .And that is on top of the 500 million or so that have already been saved.The problem isn't just that all these containers can't be returned at once; they also need time for processing.The state has looked into solutions, but nothing has been approved so far
But still, parents may be (reasonably) worried about this transition. Although schools will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines to ensure safety for children, it's always a good idea to reinforce these standards from home as well.
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So what can you do, other than clipping a mini-bottle of hand sanitizer to every backpack? USA TODAY asked two health experts for advice on how parents can keep their students safe and healthy as they prepare for in-person classes.
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Take temperatures before they go to school
While some schools will take temps at the door, it's best to make sure your child doesn't have a fever before entering the campus. Pediatrician Michael Rich, founder of the Center on Media and Child Health, suggests making it a ritual to take your student's temperature before school.
If you want to reassure yourself and your student even more, he also recommends investing in an 02 oxygen saturation monitor (about $20), which measures oxygen in the blood.
"One of the things that is an early sign of a COVID infection is a drop in your oxygen saturation, even before you're symptomatic," he says.
Opt for a packed lunch in a brown bag
Though some schools may offer contact-free cafeteria food, it's always safe to bring food from home. Ditch the reusable lunch boxes for a disposable brown bag, says Mark Cucuzzella, a family physician and professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine who specializes in diet, nutrition and healthy living.
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"It's more sanitary to put it in your own brown bag to just throw away," he says.
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Practice hand washing at every transition of the day
It sounds easy enough, but try to ingrain in your students' heads the importance of washing their hands whenever they leave home, arrive at school, enter the classroom, or go into the lunchroom. Rich compares this habit to instinctively putting on a seat belt when you get into a car.
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Steer clear of the school bus
For those who live close to campus, Cucuzzella suggests biking or even a "walking school bus" approach, in which a handful of socially distanced neighbors walk together, going from house to house.
"Have a parent or older child lead," he advises. "You can say, 'We're going to start at my house, stop and pick up Jimmy three doors down,' and basically walk along the neighborhood and get to school."
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Invest in the perfect mask
Buy a washable cloth face covering that expresses your child's personality – after all, they'll be wearing it for a long time. Rich adds that one perk of ditching the disposable mask is preventing an unfortunate mix-up with other students' masks.
"If your kid is a 'Star Wars' fan, and they have a Darth Vader mask, I guarantee you your kid will not lose that mask," Cucuzzella says..
Preach the importance of common good
Teach your children that masks are important for protecting other people more than ourselves, because the great thing about younger kids is that they're "inherently empathetic and altruistic," Rich says.
For older kids, Cucuzzella advises emphasizing the importance of protecting the vulnerable, even if this means skipping the mass gatherings.
"We live by a standard code of conduct, because we're responsible for our own community's health," he says. "You have to be very clear with your teenagers about what your code of conduct is. They cannot just go to a friend's house and invite friends from all these areas to hang out, party, then go back to school. They just can't do that."
Remember there's a difference between physical and social distancing
While the term social distancing has become colloquial, this phrase shouldn't mean distancing from each other socially.
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Cucuzzella suggests one alternative to large social gatherings for parents who permit their child to see non-family members: allowing your student to see a few close friends who have been effectively quarantining and physical distancing.
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Have your child shower when they come home
Consider having your students switch their normal shower or bath time by bathing and changing their clothes right when they return from school.
"Kids in general are less symptomatic, but that also means they can be super-spreaders," Rich says. "In other words, they can come back home as carriers of COVID-19 and not even know it, and no one around them knows it."
Stay kind while you stay safe
With all the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with the dangers of COVID-19, it's important to avoid humiliating those who have contracted the virus. Remember, this is a tough time for everyone, and it's always best to be kind.
"People can be more divisive than connecting during this time. In other words, 'oh, so-and-so's uncle has COVID-19,' therefore ostracize them," says Rich. "We have to be very conscious of the fact that it's socially problematic."
Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID19, elementary school students wait in the gym before school starts for the day in Godley, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Three rural school districts in Johnson County were among the first in Texas to head back to school for in person classes for students.
Paul Adams, 7, waits at the bus stop for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Dallas, Ga. Neighboring states arrived at differing conclusions on who’s in charge of the reopening of schools. The differences in philosophy underscore some of the difficulties facing states as they grapple with how to proceed amid growing coronavirus infections in numerous states.
Masked students arrive at Newton County Elementary School in Decatur, Miss., on Aug. 3. Thousands of students across the nation are set to resume in-person school for the first time since March. Parents have to balance the children's need for socialization and instruction that school provides with the risks of coronavirus.
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Students arrive to Dallas Elementary School for the first day of school amid the coronavirus outbreak on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Dallas, Ga.
Principal Jennifer Beller installs plastic dividers between computers on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in a kindergarten classroom at Saint Mary's School in Moscow, Idaho. The private Catholic school plans to open for classes on Sept. 2, with precautions in place to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Newton County Elementary School Kindergarten Teacher Beth Lang checks Breeze Nichols' temperature before she enters the classroom as principal Jason Roberson, right, ushers her to her class on her first day of school in Decatur, Miss., Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.
Wearing a mask and face guard as protection against the spread of COVID-19, a Garland Independent School District custodian wipes down surfaces at Stephens Elementary School in Rowlett, Texas, Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
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Masked students enter Oak Ridge High for the first day of school amid COVID-19 on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. All students have their temperature checked as they enter the school's building.
Sister Andria Donald of the Sisters of the Holy Family works with teachers Janice Donalds, left, and Robin Jackson, partially visible, along with children Julio Washington, right, and Santana Washington, at the St. John Berchmans Early Childhood Care Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, Thursday, July 23, 2020. In the archdioceses of New Orleans and Chicago, top leaders are encouraging their schools to place a new emphasis on teaching about racial justice, as well as the history of Black Catholics.
Wearing masks and face guards as protection against the spread of COVID-19, Garland Independent School District custodians wipe down surfaces at Stephens Elementary School in Rowlett, Texas, Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
Sarah Holland, a Des Moines Public Schools administration support coordinator, sets up a plexiglass window on a table inside the Welcome Center for families new to the district to meet with someone and register for classes, on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
A Shelby County Schools middle school teacher who declined to provide her name walks through the crowd with the effigy of the grim reaper Tuesday, July 21, 2020, during a protest outside of the Shelby County Schools district offices in Memphis.
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Cabot Yerxa Elementary School teacher Jennifer Liegey records a math lesson for the schools' You Tube channel from her home in Desert Hot Springs, California, on May 13, 2020. School sites have been closed since mid March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
A fourth grade class is set up to instruct students last the desks are six feet apart. Jennifer Alfonso, principal of James Madison School No. 10 in Garfield, prepares her classrooms using social distancing rules provided by Bergen County and the State of New Jersey.
Zoe Long starts work on new cloth face-coverings for educators on Monday, July 20, 2020 in Pensacola, Florida. In addition to making the masks, Long has also created the Facebook group "Supporting Teachers for Back to School" to gather supplies for the returning teachers and students.
Hartsfield Elementary School Assistant Principal Lisa Thompson, left, and Principal Rhonda Blackwell-Flanagan demonstrate how students will be seated in the cafeteria in Tallahassee, Florida on July 20, 2020.
Superintendent Dr. Keith Perrigan shows the new seating configuration on the school buses for the upcoming school year, Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Bristol, Virginia. A maximum of 22 students can be on the bus.
Teachers illustrate the average size of a Mississippi classroom and how only 11 students would be able to fit in it during a rally at the state Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, Friday, July 17, 2020. The teachers, concerned about returning to school too soon amid rising COVID-19 numbers, are calling for delayed opening of the schools and for the legislature to fully fund education.
Dorie NIckerson, a fourth grade teacher at Ferry Pass Elementary School, writes a message on her windshield before fellow educators and parents begin their "Car Parade for the Safe Reopening of Schools" in Pensacola, Florida on Thursday, July 16, 2020. While they are eager to get back to the classrooms, they are calling for safe conditions before doing so.
Freshman Nathan Burrier, left, gets advice on the bass drum from assistant Sam Parker, right, during Harrison High School's marching band camp Wednesday morning, July 15, 2020 in Evansville, Indiana. This was the first week of band camp which usually starts in June but was pushed back in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.
Dennis Watson, who has been a custodian at Topeka High School for 28 years, marks off lockers on the second floor before continuing to apply gold paint to the walls Wednesday. Watson said the walls have been white, brown, blue, white again, green and now will be gold.
Beaver Falls High School football players Mitch Myers and Quadir Thomas sanitize their hands between drills during practice Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Beaver Falls, Pa. They will continue with practice even as about 20 others high schools will pause practices for a week due to concerns with the COVID-19 virus.
Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. Getting children back to school safely could mean keeping high-risk spots like bars and gyms closed. That's the latest thinking from some public health experts.
Pine-Richland High School quarterback Cole Spencer and teammates stretch during their first practice of the season, Monday, July 6, 2020, at Richland Elementary in Pine-Richland Township near Warrendale, Pa. They will have three practices this week while many area high schools will pause practice for a week due to COVID-19 virus concerns.
A water fountain is covered with tape and inaccessible as per coronavirus guidelines, during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020. - California Governor Gavin Newsom says the reopening of California schools for the coming school year will be based on safety and not pressure from President Donald Trump as California sets records for one-day increases in COVID-19 cases.
Principal Pam Rasmussen checks the temperature of students on arrival as per coronavirus guidelines, during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020. - California Governor Gavin Newsom says the reopening of California schools for the coming school year will be based on safety and not pressure from President Donald Trump as California sets records for one-day increases in COVID-19 cases.
Instructor Amy Giang teaches a class of 4th-7th graders, wearing masks and spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines, during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020. - California Governor Gavin Newsom says the reopening of California schools for the coming school year will be based on safety and not pressure from President Donald Trump as California sets records for one-day increases in COVID-19 cases.
Des Moines Public Schools custodian Tracy Harris cleans chairs in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. Getting children back to school safely could mean keeping high-risk spots like bars and gyms closed. That's the latest thinking from some public health experts.
Governor Kristi Noem is framed by partitions built to separate student work spaces while she gives an update on back to school planning on Tuesday, July 28, at John Harris Elementary School in Sioux Falls, S.D.