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Mask or Not in School? 8 Must-Knows as Kids Head Back to Class

Girl wearing mask to school

Yes, wearing a mask in school is mostly optional now. But with COVID still spreading and posing a serious threat to some people, make sure your child knows when they might need to wear a mask in school.

Our experts share 8 must-know tips to keep your child healthy, happy, and learning in school this year.

Your Kid Should Wear a Mask at School When …

1. Going to the Nurse’s Office

It’s definitely a good idea to mask up while in this usually cramped place with other sick children. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends: “Masking at all times in healthcare settings, including school nurses’ offices, regardless of the current COVID-19 community level.”

2. Your Child Gets Exposed to Someone With COVID

Good news. You don’t need to keep your child at home. Just have them wear a mask for the next 10 days, as the CDC recommends. Just in time for back to school in 2022, CDC updated its COVID guidelines.

3. Your Community Sees a Lot of People Getting COVID

Kids wearing a mask in school can help stop the spread. “My advice for parents is to watch community transmission closely and make decisions about wearing a mask based on that and your family,” says Costi Sifri, MD, a UVA Health infectious disease expert.

He adds, “For my high school daughter, who is fully vaccinated/boosted, athletic, and doesn’t have risk factors for serious COVID-19, I’ll be encouraging her to wear a mask in school while there’s a high level of community transmission.”

4. First Few Weeks Back at School

Don't let your guard down. Encourage your child to mask up in school during this time, Sifri recommends. “Regardless of the transmission levels, I’ll encourage my daughter to mask at the start of the school year,” he says.

Here’s why: “Over the last few years, the start of school after a break is when we've seen surges in respiratory virus cases — COVID, flu and/or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). And yes, masks work for not only COVID prevention, but for flu, RSV, and other respiratory viruses that can put a lot of people, including young children, in the hospital.”

5. If You Have a Child or Family Member at High Risk for Serious COVID

Encourage masking in school throughout the year. And explain how wearing a mask helps to keep them, or their family member, safe.

“If you look at some countries, wearing masks indoors, wearing masks in school, and wearing masks on the subway is something that is just normal,” says UVA Health pediatric infectious disease expert Steven Zeichner, MD.

3 More Things to Know

6. Your Child Worries About Being the Only One Wearing a Mask in School

“I think it's really important to make sure you check with your child on how it's going. What they've heard back — good or bad — from other kids at school,” says UVA clinical psychologist Joseph Tan, PhD. Tan says to ask your child open-ended questions on how masking, or not, is going. This is the best way to figure out how your child is navigating school in this new world.

7. Don't Hesitate to Vaccinate

Whether you and your child decide to mask in school, don’t miss out on the benefits of vaccination.

“The most important thing that parents can do to protect their children is to get themselves and their children vaccinated against COVID-19 now, and later this fall, against influenza,” says infectious disease expert William Petri, MD.

COVID Making a Comeback Near You?

Know whether to mask in school.

8. Keep a COVID Test Handy

Chances are good you'll need one. If your child gets cold and flu symptoms, keep them home.

“They can return to school when they test negative and are feeling better,” Petri says. Just like with other illnesses, once fever-free for 24 hours, they can head back to the classroom. And yes, they should wear a mask in school until day 10 from the start of feeling sick.

Get More COVID Prevention Tips


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