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'Expect the unexpected': Doctor shares advice for parents sending kids back to school amid COVID-19 surge

A family medicine doctor at Harborview said parents and students should prepare and 'expect the unexpected' as schools return to in-person learning this fall.

SEATTLE — The start of another school year is aligning with yet another surge in the COVID-19 pandemic as the more contagious delta variant runs rampant, especially among the unvaccinated.

The back-to-school season and the quickly increasing case count has parents and their students facing renewed uncertainty about the future.

Dr. Amanda Kost, director of the Family Medicine Clinic at Harborview Medical Center, said parents should prepare themselves and their children for “knowing that you don't know what's going to happen.”

Currently, Washington state’s plan requires schools to have an in-person learning plan in place for all students along with a mandate for masks indoors for all teachers, students and staff regardless of vaccination status.

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For those concerned about their student wearing masks while at school, Kost suggested ramping up mask-wearing in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the school year so it doesn’t seem like such a challenge when classes start.

Despite fears that children wouldn’t be able to wear masks for long periods of time, a study published in the National Library of Medicine found that children in kindergarten through second grade were able to wear masks consistently in classrooms.

“When I say kids are cool with masks, the data backs it up,” said Kost. “I do think that it's important for parents to know that, especially for kids that are under the age of 12 that can't be vaccinated, the mask is really our best line of defense against their kids getting sick – and against their kids potentially spreading COVID to other people, even if they don't get sick or have symptoms.”

Kost also advocates for giving children a pep talk ahead of the school year, offering words of support and encouragement and pointing out to them that they’ve already been through it.

"You have proven that you were able to do it last year. I have confidence that you can do it this year," said Kost, explaining her pep talk with her kids.

Masking is considered by health professionals to be among the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 short of vaccination, which isn’t approved for children under the age of 12.