Keep kids safe as they head back to school with masking, COVID vaccine

With school starting next month, experts are concerned that COVID-19 cases could rise among children, especially with the prevalence of the Delta variant which transmits much more easily.

While COVID vaccines are available to kids ages 12 and up, it’s not yet available to younger children.

Jade Elliott spoke with Katrina Jensen, a pediatric nurse with Intermountain Healthcare about the vaccine and keeping your kids healthy.

Pediatric experts from Intermountain Healthcare, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Utah Department of Health all agree, a layered prevention approach can minimize the impact of COVID-19 exposures and outbreaks in school settings.

“Parents can protect young children against the disease by doing what has been shown to work well: having them wear masks indoors and practice social distancing. It’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19,” said Katrina Jensen, a pediatric nurse with Intermountain Healthcare.

The CDC is also recommending even vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings in areas of heightened transmission, so parents should model that behavior, even if they’re vaccinated. While Utah law doesn’t allow schools to require students to wear masks, parents can choose to have their children wear masks to help keep them safe.

COVID-19 can severely disrupt learning, school attendance, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Children can and do get COVID-19 and are at risk for severe illness from the virus. Even with mild illness, children can spread the virus to other people. This is why using layered prevention strategies in schools are so important.

“Elementary school-aged children did an excellent job wearing their masks last school year,” said Jensen. “Masking minimized outbreaks and the challenges that come with them, including quarantines, missed school days, and the risk of infecting younger siblings and vulnerable family members.”

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been rising among Utah residents, including children. Children have been hospitalized with the disease, experienced long COVID lingering symptoms, and in some cases, contracted Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a severe inflammation of organs including the brain and heart that can result in death.

Here are some ways to protect young children against COVID-19:

  • Vaccinate family members ages 12 and up as soon as possible. Doing so can help ensure full immunity close to the time school starts, minimizing risk.
  • Wear masks in indoor public settings.
  •  If you have questions about the vaccine, masking or related matters, ask your medical provider.

“Your family’s doctor or nurse practitioner knows you and your children, and is happy to have a conversation with you about your questions and concerns,” Jensen said. “Your primary care provider can provide factual information to help you make an informed decision about the vaccine, and other steps you might take to keep yourself and your children safe.”

More information:

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.