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LVHN doctor talks about the importance of proper mask wearing, social distancing

Going back to school this year can be a little scary for children and parents. Here are some tips from Dr. L. Narayana Gajula, a pediatrician with the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Lehighton.

Go ahead and rehearse with your child how to take their mask off and on in school.

“Wearing a mask is the most important part of preventing COVID spread,” Gajula said.

Children need to be taught that the mask needs to cover both the mouth and the nose, and that they should not touch the front of the mask, he said. Instead, parents should teach them to adjust the mask by grabbing the elastic around the ears or string ties in order to adjust it.

Gajula also thinks it’s important to teach children the importance of social distancing.

“The student should tell others to keep a distance,” he said. “Again, it comes back to wearing the mask all the time. You prevent that the child sneezing doesn’t pass on the virus to you.”

The old standard of coughing and sneezing into a tissue or the elbow still applies even when wearing a mask. Any tissues that are used should be thrown out in a special trash can in the classroom specifically for tissues, he said.

If the mask becomes soiled or wet, then the child should take it off and replace it with a clean one, Gajula said.

“A wet mask makes it difficult to breathe that’s the reason why you should have an additional mask available,” he said.

Parents should send the child to school with at least two masks - one to wear and one to replace the soiled mask. If the child runs out of masks from home or does not have a second one, then he or she should ask the teacher for one from the school, he said.

As for the type of face mask to use, Gajula does not recommend face masks that cover the neck or those that have a vent.

When the child returns home from school, he should change his clothes immediately and his clothes and the face masks from that day should be washed.

For this reason, parents should have several face masks at home, so there are clean masks ready for the next day of school, he said.

Hand washing is also very important, and children should be taught how to wash their hands. The Centers for Disease and Prevention recommend washing hands for at least 20 seconds.

Gajula said children should use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer as much as possible.

“Hand sanitizer with a younger child, it’s harder to keep safe. Older child is probably safer with instructions,” he said.

If a parent wants to send hand sanitizer to school with their child, then do not put it in the child’s lunch box. If the bottle accidentally opens, then it can get on the child’s food, which can be unsafe.

“They should refrain from eating it. It is an alcohol base or other chemical,” he said. “There is a risk of harming themselves, poisoning.”

Gajula also said that children should be taught to not share their pencils, paper, tissues, hand sanitizer or any possession with other children. This is contrary to tradition, but due to the pandemic children could catch the virus from another child if they share they’re possessions.

To date, only 7.9% of the COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania have been in children, but some states have had upwards of 14% of cases in children. Nationwide, about 9.3% of the cases were children, he said.

Usually, the symptoms are mild in children and they recover faster.

Older children tend to be asymptomatic, but when they do show symptoms, the symptoms can be worse than in younger children, Gajula said.

Parents should be on the lookout for a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, cough or difficulty breathing. If they do suspect that their child has COVID-19 or they were told that their child could have been exposed to the virus at school, then they should contact their family physician or make a virtual appointment.

Dr. L. Narayana Gajula
Going back to school this year can be a little scary for children and parents. Dr. L. Narayana Gajula, a pediatrician with the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Lehighton, talks about proper mask usage to help protect your child. For a video with Dr. Gajula, see www.tnonline.com. METROGRAPHICS