Safety is paramount for students in Northeast and Central Wisconsin this school year amid the pandemic. School districts are doing their part in trying to protect kids from contracting or spreading COVID-19, and parents need to as well by properly equipping their children with coronavirus-fighting supplies when sending them to school each day.

As many students settle into their first month of heading back to class, a few Be Safe Wisconsin partners share the ABCs of what students should carry in their backpack this school year.

Pack to Keep Kids Safe

Always check with your child’s school first to see what they provide, says Dr. Abby Smolcich, Pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy. “Schools should provide hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer, but it’s always best to ask.” And then parents can go from there.

She, along with physicians at Ascension Medical Group, suggests keeping these supplies close at hand:

  • Small hand sanitizer bottles with at least 60% alcohol in them
  • Tissues for any sniffles
  • Disinfectant wipes to destroy any germs lingering on hard surfaces like desks or tables
  • Extra face masks with the child’s name on them to prevent any mix-ups with other students
  • A paper bag, plastic container or resealable plastic bag for face mask storage

Dr. Smolcich notes the proper storage of face masks when not in use. “Fold it so that the outside– which is the part exposed to air and germs – is folded inward and stored in a paper bag. Reusable face masks are ideal because they can be laundered regularly. Face masks will help to reduce and even prevent inhalation of respiratory droplets which is how COVID-19 is spread.”

“Science tells us that wearing a face mask or cloth face covering, diligent hand hygiene, social distancing and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Tom Nichols, Vice President of Medical Affairs, Ascension St. Elizabeth.

Pack with Healthy Habits in Mind

Parents can keep everything in check with a bit of planning.

“Pack COVID-19 mitigation supplies in the backpack the night before a school day,” Dr. Nichols suggests.

Dr. Smolcich recommends making an age appropriate checklist, so kids can note each item as they put them in their backpack.

  • Hang a checklist on the refrigerator or by the door.
  • Label each child’s supplies, so everyone knows which items belong to which child.
  • Once packed, place the backpack by the door.

With so much to remember at the start of the school year and learning new habits, check with the child’s teacher or administration to see if kids can leave a smaller back-up bag filled with extra hand sanitizer and face masks at school, leaving it in the child’s locker or cubby, to have at the ready for those days these virus-fighting supplies may be forgotten at home.

Pack with Help from Others

If money is tight to purchase these safety supplies for your kids, parents have a few places to turn. Pediatricians recommend first calling United Way’s 2-1-1—just dial those three simple numbers: 2-1-1—to connect to community resources, including supplies available for free in the community. United Way’s 2-1-1 is free, confidential and available statewide 24/7/365. Another Be Safe Wisconsin partner, Compassionate Home Health Care, works with various organizations to get cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items to families who need the support to stay healthy.

“It’s important that children have access to these supplies during the school day, so they can continue to practice these good habits outside of the home,” Dr. Nichols says.

Packed with Final Words of Wisdom

“Developing the habit of washing hands before school to leave the germs at home and as soon as they get home so they can leave the germs at school is critical,” adds Dr. Peter Roloff, Pediatrician and Regional Medical Director of Primary Care, Ascension Medical Group. “Frequent washing throughout the day is not natural to children but can be taught.”

Physicians advise parents to lead by example at home, saying if adults in the lives of children are wearing masks, practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing, children will be more likely to follow suit.

“Remind children that we are all in this together,” Dr. Roloff adds.  “It is so important that they share their feelings with you, and you remind them it is going to be okay. We all need to figure out what is best based on what is happening at that point in time and as a family, as a school family and as a community, we will keep each other safe.”

Ultimately, doctors say what’s most important in controlling the spread of the coronavirus is keeping kids at home when they are ill.

“If your child has a fever, new symptoms or has been exposed to someone with known COVID-19, please contact your health care provider before sending your child to school,” Dr. Nichols notes.