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Riverside doctor shares advice to help keep students under 12 healthy as they go back to school

For parents with small kids, it's proving to be a more challenging transition back to the classroom. Children younger than 12 can't get the COVID vaccine just yet.

VIRGINIA, USA — By now, many students in Hampton Roads have already started their academic year. The 757's largest school division, Virginia Beach, takes on its first day Thursday.

This back-to-school season has brought unprecedented concerns among families, especially with the rise of the delta variant and pending COVID-19 vaccine approval for children ages 5-11.

Dr. Rebekah Sensenig, a physician and infectious disease specialist with Riverside Health System, could relate to those concerns.

“I’m in that boat as well. I’m a parent of three sons and they’re all under 12,” she said. “Even though parents know majority of the children do very well with the virus, we also know that some children don’t and that there have been some child deaths. And so, all of us parents, we worry.”

Credit: Contributed, Dr. Rebekah Sensenig

With three children not yet eligible for a COVID-19 shot, Sensenig stressed the importance of a few COVID-19 safety tips.

First, upkeep of other childhood back-to-school vaccinations.

“The last thing we would want is somebody to be ill with COVID at the same time that they have something preventable, like influenza or chicken pox or anything like that," she said.

She also said basic hygiene is key in preventing the spread. That includes frequently using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and more importantly, handwashing.

Sensenig also firmly believes in proper mask-wearing, meaning children should have on clean and well-fitted face coverings that go over their noses and mouths.

When it comes to distancing, this was her advice:

“What I try to tell my children is, while you’re in class, of course you’re going to be staying away from people," she said. "But when you’re in recess, when you’re playing outside with them, try to come up with games where you can be separated from them.”

Every morning, she suggested making it a habit to screen your student for symptoms. 

"It is imperative that they stay home, they get tested, even if you think it is allergies,” she said.

As kids were heading back to the classroom, Sensenig encouraged anyone around them eligible for a COVID-19 shot to get vaccinated, if they haven’t already. 

She calls it one of the most important things we can do for our children.

The vaccine approval timeline for ages 5-11 remains unclear. 

Health experts have predicted some time this fall for Pfizer, and much later this year for Moderna. Clinical trials and studies are ongoing.