COVID-19 Update: Reducing the Risks for Kids at School with Dr. Teresa Ruiz

By Teresa Ruiz, MD
COVID-19 Update: Reducing the Risks for Kids at School with Dr. Teresa Ruiz

Many of the children and staff heading back to school have not received COVID-19 vaccinations. The shots aren’t available for those under the age of 12. Others have chosen not to be vaccinated. Dr. Teresa Ruiz, a pediatrician at University Health, discusses the reasons children should return to the classroom, and offers advice for minimizing their risks from infection.

Should I send an unvaccinated child to in-person classes?

I really do believe that the benefits of being in an in-person school setting far outweigh the risk of COVID, which is what we’re all worried about right now. For children who are under 12 years old and who can’t get vaccinated, we need to give them additional protection so that they do not get sick. Many children get therapies at school like speech therapy, physical therapy. These are things that all happen in the school setting, not to mention the learning, interaction, the friends, the exercise you get at recess and with P.E. These benefits far outweigh the risk for COVID.

How likely is it that my unvaccinated child will become ill from COVID-19?

The likelihood that they can catch COVID is about the same as everybody else. So if there’s someone with COVID in their vicinity, they can catch that disease. They’re not as likely, based on the data that we know, to get seriously ill with it. But some children have gotten ill. No parent wants their child to have that risk, so we want to do as much as we can to minimize it. Wearing a mask, handwashing for the child, socially distancing from those who you don’t know their vaccination status.

Should all children and staff wear masks at school, even if they are vaccinated?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with recommendations. These are that there should be universal masking for all children age 2 years old and up. And really for all the people around them. We definitely want the unvaccinated to wear a mask, but masking the children who are also vaccinated does a couple of things. One, if they’re sick and don’t know that they’re sick with COVID, because people who have been vaccinated can become ill, they won’t spread it to other people.

The other thing it does is it helps to prevent monitoring. How do we know that somebody is vaccinated or if they’re unvaccinated and choosing not to wear a mask? We don’t know by looking, and it’s not reasonable to ask for ongoing monitoring, and we don’t have that as a mandate.

Is it safe for my child to ride the bus to school?

Yes, I do think that riding the bus is okay, but you need a mask to get the best protection that you can get. Some parents may feel that they don’t want their child on the bus and they have the ability to take their child in a different way to school, and that’s okay. But the people who do need to ride the bus we need to weigh the benefits of being in school, which far outweigh the risk right now.

Is it safe for my child to eat meals prepared by the school?

One of the things that we know is that the risk of catching COVID from food preparation is very, very low. So I believe it is safe to be eating the food provided from the school, including the school breakfasts and lunches.

What safety measures should I expect a school to provide?

You want to know about vaccinations. Are most of the teachers and staff, and you’re talking about even the environmental cleaners for the school, are they vaccinated?

  • What’s the school’s policy on these teachers and staff wearing masks?
  • What are they doing in terms of cleaning the school in terms of surfaces? And we don’t need to go overboard, but there should be a level of cleanliness that’s going on.
  • What is the policy on distancing?
  • Are the school desks set further apart?
  • What happens at recess?
  • What happens at lunchtime?

You want to see that the school has been thoughtful and has answers for you. They may not be able to do everything, but the more that teachers are aware of what they can do, the better off for everybody.


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