Dr. Peter Lin offers back-to-school tips for protecting children and families from COVID-19

As many students prepare to return to in-class learning later this month, Dr. Peter Lin looked at ways to help teach children to avoid getting COVID-19.

He also looked at tips for parents and caregivers to keep the virus from spreading into homes, including not letting children wear their shoes throughout the house and keeping backpacks off tables and beds.

Dr. Lin, a weekly CBC Radio medical contributor, spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Thursday and offered the following tips. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview at the bottom of this story.

Craig Norris: Let’s start with getting to school. What do we need to think about there? 

Dr. Peter Lin: Yes, so even before that, we’re supposed to screen our kids for symptoms. Do they have a fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, or they can’t taste stuff?

So if they have any of those things, just keep them at home so that way, the school doesn’t freak out and, you know, it’s easier for your kids.

For the kids that are on a school bus, for example, we want them wearing a mask. And if they are young or they can’t handle the mask, they can wear a face shield, that’ll be helpful. 

The kids should probably sit together from the same neighborhood. Now, they will have seating plans, but just in case they don’t, the kids that are standing, waiting for the bus should probably be the ones sitting together … that way it cuts down on the exposure to other kids.

And no hands to your face, because that’s one way to get the virus up there that you can breathe in. 

Hopefully the windows will be opened from the bus driver, so … we can get some [air]flow. 

There was a Tibetan monk … tour bus. Basically, the monks were on the bus and there was one person sick. And obviously the air conditioning was recycling the air and 24 people got sick on a 100 minute bus ride.

We want to increase the airflow as best we can and so, right now, when the weather’s good, the windows can be down. When the weather gets a little bit bad, we just need a couple of inches … a little crack in the windows of all of them so that we can increase the airflow.

For carpooling, it’s easier because there’s less kids, so therefore the exposure is less. But they still also need to wear a face mask or a face shield and open up the windows because you’re sitting with other kids from different bubbles. 

Walking to school is a great idea. Just keep six feet away from other folks. 

And then if you’re biking, that’s popular when the weather is OK. But let’s be careful about the traffic accidents because we’re seeing too many traffic accidents with bikes. So when you’re considering biking, we don’t want to trade COVID safety and then cause an accident along the way. 

Dr. Peter Lin is a family doctor and frequent contributor to CBC. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Arrival at school

Norris: Once students arrive at school, then what should they do? 

Dr. Lin: There will be probably a lineup at the door because there’s got to be some screening. So stay six feet apart. If there’s no markings on the ground, it’s about two arms length away to the next child. 

And the screening questions, get your kids to know the questions so that they can answer quickly. So that keeps the line moving 

Get your kids to be comfortable using the hand sanitizer. For those kids that have very bad skin, they can wear gloves. There was a study that said you can wash those gloves with hand sanitizers up to 20 times and the gloves are still good. So that will save their skin and that might be very helpful for a lot of adults as well that have bad skin. 

And there’ll be lots of signs … which way to walk on the floor and which way to put your bag and your coat and things like that. So have your kids pay attention to those signs.

Lockers will probably be off limits until they figure out how to assign it so that there’s physical distancing. So just be careful how many things you give your child to carry with them, because they will probably have to carry it around all day at school.

There will be classroom rules: when can you get up? How do you go to the bathroom? So just have the kids be aware and understand those classroom rules. 

Masks in classrooms

Dr. Lin: Now, as far as masks inside the classroom, I know that there’s been some debate. 

I would say that we should keep the mask on inside the classroom and the reason is, we have these asymptomatic virus producers, these virus factories, they don’t have any symptoms, but they can make viruses. 

So without a mask, just by breathing out, they can send the virus maybe two or three feet away from them just by breathing. But if you put a mask on, then it cuts it down to maybe just a couple of inches away from them. 

So you can contain somebody that has virus from spreading it around within the classroom by having the mask on all the time.

Now, if you’re a person without the virus, then having the mask on will reduce your sucking power. So that means you physically have to be closer to the virus before you can suck the virus into your lungs. And so, therefore, keeping the mask on will protect you as well because you’re less likely sucking the virus. 

And for the kids that are younger or those that can’t handle a mask, then we can use a face shield. And initially I thought a face shield’s leaking everywhere, how is that going to work? So if I have a virus, I cannot blow it directly at you. So it gets deflected downward towards my chest. And so therefore, you’re not breathing there. 

So now I have protected you. 

Now let’s say I don’t have virus, how will the shield protect me? It’s very hard to breathe in the virus because the virus has to make a U-turn around the shield and then get up to my nose and then I can breathe it into my lungs. So it protects in both ways. So the face shield is also useful. 

And I was looking in Asia, they have these kids that wear – all I can describe it is like a beekeeper’s hat – but instead of a mesh in the front, it’s clear plastic. So they can see you, you can see their expressions. It’s not a mask, it’s very comfortable and it’s part of their uniform. Every kid is wearing it, and so therefore there’s a lot of creative ways that we can protect our kids within that classroom setting. 

Students Lucas Provias, 16 and Vanessa Trotman, 15, take part in a return-to-school demonstration at a school in Scarborough. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Eating and playing

Norris: What about lunchtime and recess? 

Dr. Lin: Yeah, that’s tough. You know, especially lunchtime because your mask will be off. Now, we’ve seen videos of little kids taking a bite of cookie and then putting their mask back on. But I’m not that … well trained, so therefore, the mask will be off. 

So the first layer of protection is gone. So we need the other layers to stay there. So in other words, six feet apart, and we need to wash your hands before your hands go up to your face, because that’s the other way of bringing viruses up there. 

Now for some kids that are using cafeterias, they’re going to stagger the lunch hour so that there’s less kids there. That’s good. 

Or for kids that are eating in classrooms, I’m telling them, don’t be complacent. Right? Because you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m just eating with my friends. They’re not sick looking or anything like that.’ They could be an asymptomatic virus factory. So as soon as your mask or a shield is off, you need to do that six foot distance and you need to wash your hands. 

So you need to make sure those two things are done. Otherwise, we’ll start seeing the virus moving around within the classroom itself. 

Keeping families safe

Norris: What can parents and kids do to try and keep COVID-19 out of their home? 

Dr. Lin: Well, when you pick up your child, just ask them, are you feeling OK? Did they develop symptoms during the day? Also ask if there were any other kids that were sick and that way you kind of get a heads up as to whether there’s something going on in the school.

Also, remember, viruses and bacteria end up on the floor, so shoes and the bottom of the bags could transmit viruses and carry them back to your home. 

The shoes should stay at your door and home, [children and teens shouldn’t] run around your whole house with those shoes on and that’ll stop the tracking of the virus. 

Also, backpacks should never be put on tables or beds because now you’ve elevated where the virus is from the floor up to something that you might touch with your hands or your head might lie down on the bed and you might start breathing in the virus that way. 

So things that are on the floor should stay on the floor. And if you happen to touch the bottom of the bag, just wash your hands before you touch your face so that you don’t contaminate yourself. 

And then finally, maybe changing out of the school clothes and maybe even a quick shower, you know, wash out the hair. And that way all the virus is gone. I know doctors and nurses and health care workers do that. They decontaminate when they get home. Mind you, they’re in front of viruses all day long. Whereas in this case, if you’re looking after somebody’s elderly or somebody with cancer or immune system issues, then maybe taking these simple little steps will keep the virus away from the home as well.

Listen to the whole interview with Dr. Peter Lin:

The first lesson of this school year is COVID-19 safety. Dr. Peter Lin talks about how to limit the risk for students, their families, teachers and caregivers. 7:06

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