Back-to-School Safety for Everyone

Happy schoolboys are hugged by their granny.

Back-to-school brings new classes, renewed friendships, and fresh starts. It also can bring severe weather, rainy forecasts, and common colds – not to mention the flu and Covid. Here are four ways to make back-to-school safe for everyone, young and old.

1. Get vaccinated.

Vaccinations are one of the key ways parents can protect the health of their children, from newborns to college students. Many one-time vaccinations prevent highly contagious and life-threatening diseases like measles, whooping cough, and chickenpox. The newer HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine can prevent cancer later in life. The CDC has a web page dedicated to vaccines for children by age that includes a quiz to find out which vaccines might be needed and a schedule.

Vaccinations aren’t just for students and children. To prevent Covid from surging again – especially as everyone spends more time indoors – ensuring Covid vaccinations and boosters are up to date is essential for parents and grandparents as well as kids.

It’s also important to get the flu shot. It protects people from getting the flu, reduces the severity of illness in those who do get it, and decreases flu-associated hospitalization.

2. Go outside and move.

Indoors time usually means screen time. Whether it’s nonstop TV or social media, overdoing it can impact mental and physical health. So, it’s important to get outside and get moving.

Physical activity can reduce anxiety and aid focus. Interacting with nature can help empathy and cooperation. Cynthia Frantz, PhD, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, explains, “Spending time in nature has cognitive benefits, but it also has emotional and existential benefits that go beyond just being able to solve arithmetic problems more quickly.” Plus, being in the sun boosts vitamin D levels which help prevent infections.

Experts recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity each week.

3. Get ready for winter.

As the weather turns colder, many people are using their heating for the first time in a long time, whether it’s a fireplace or a furnace – or both. Regular maintenance is important.

First, make sure that all smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors have new batteries. (Some people like to do this when the clocks “fall back”  and standard time returns.) Check that your home fire extinguisher is up to date and easily accessible; they have about a 10-year life expectancy. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, buy one! And keep an eye on open flames, like the candles in jack-o’-lanterns. Flying embers can quickly start fires.

Before winter arrives it’s a good idea to have  furnaces serviced by a professional. The filters will likely need to be cleaned or replaced and the thermostat may need to be adjusted.

If you have a fireplace, hire a chimney sweep to clear out debris and other items (like bird nests) that may have accumulated. Never pour lighter fluid, kerosene or gasoline in a fireplace or leave a fireplace unattended. And always use a fireplace screen to prevent flying sparks and embers from starting a fire.

4. Make a plan.

Autumn is dubbed the “secondary” severe weather season, since tornadoes, flash flooding, damaging wind, and hail can occur.  

Prepare by creating  an emergency kit for wherever you will be during severe weather.The kit should include a battery-operated weather radio, sturdy shoes, medicine, important documents, a whistle, a flashlight, and batteries. Don’t forget to keep phones and tablets charged!

For students, the CDC recommends these ABCs for emergency preparedness and planning:

A – ASK how you would be reunited with your child in an emergency or evacuation.

B – BRING extra medicines, special food, or supplies your child would need if you were separated overnight.

C – COMPLETE a backpack card and tuck one in your child’s backpack and your wallet.

D – DISCUSSING what to do in emergencies can help reduce concerns if an emergency does happen.

Former CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., summed up why planning should be part of back-to-school activities. “As a parent and grandparent, I know that back-to-school time is a busy time. Yet, I encourage parents and students to be mindful of some health essentials to add to your to-do lists,” he said. “Getting a flu shot this fall, frequent hand-washing, and staying active all contribute to a healthier and more productive academic year.”

Sources: US News; CDC; APA; WDSU; Farmer’s Almanac

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