As we head into the coldest months of the school term, it’s time for preschool directors, daycare operators, and school nurses to review cold and flu season tips. It’s common for school-aged children to have between 6-10 colds a year – especially during the winter when people are more susceptible to viral infections. Plus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Each year, millions of children get sick with seasonal flu; thousands of children are hospitalized, and some children die from flu.”
The good news is that this year’s cold and flu season appears to be milder, possibly due to the precautions people are already taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, since colds and the flu are notorious for spreading through schools and daycares, directors need to have a plan. Use the following 12 cold and flu season tips to reassure parents and staff.
1. Encourage Families to Get the Flu Vaccine
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends, “Encourage all staff, children, and parents to plan to get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available in their community. Everyone needs a flu vaccine each year, even when the virus strains in the vaccine do not change from the previous year, because protection only lasts one season.”
If your school is able, offer a vaccination clinic to make it even easier for families to receive their flu vaccine.
2. Communicate Cold and Flu Season Tips with Parents and Staff
The pandemic has made many people fearful, so school and childcare services need to be transparent and open. Communicate with parents and staff often about what you are doing to prevent colds and the flu from spreading through your campus. Email hygiene tips and vaccination reminders. Tell parents how you are encouraging their kids to practice good hygiene at school so these skills can be reinforced at home.
3. Have a Clear Sick Policy
Every school, daycare, or childcare facility should have a clear sick policy in writing. Moreover, the sick policy should be easy to find in the handbook and on the website. Don’t make the mistake of believing parents will read it at the start of the school year and remember it. Instead, send the sick policy out a few times during the year as a reminder.
4. Set Up Hand Washing Stations
Your staff should wash their hands frequently. Additionally, students should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently. In rooms without sinks for washing hands, you should set up hand sanitation stations with sanitizers.
5. Follow CDC Recommendations
In addition to frequent hand washing, have your staff and students follow the other CDC recommendations, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. These COVID-19 precautions are also cold and flu season tips.
6. Clean Frequently
While cleaning should always be a priority in the classroom, it is even more important during a pandemic. It is also one of the most important cold and flu season tips to follow. Make sure each staff member has access to cleaning products and time to disinfect toys, surfaces, and high touch areas. If your staff does not have time, consider outsourcing this important task to a cleaning service.
7. Stop Sharing
Yes, kids need to learn to share. However, as the University of Iowa Health Care explains, “Sharing is good for kids, but many commonly shared items can be breeding grounds for germs. Teach children to never share straws and cups, caps and scarves, or anything that comes in contact with their mouths and faces.”
8. Separate Sick Kids
If a child appears sick while under your care, the child should be separated from others. This is best done by having a designated sick room where the child can stay until his or her parent arrives.
9. Invest in COVID-19 Supplies
Again, many of the precautions used for preventing the spread of COVID-19 will also help prevent colds and the flu from spreading through your school. Therefore, it is wise to invest in supplies, such as plexiglass dividers or health screening apps, such as MyMedBot.
10. Prepare a List of Alternative Sick Care Options
Unfortunately, many parents don’t get sick leave from work when their children are sick, which means it is difficult for them to keep their kids home. However, if their child exhibits symptoms that are defined in your sick policy, you must stick to your policy. You can help these parents out by having a list of alternative sick care options available, such as care.com or names of babysitters willing to stay with sick children while parents work.
11. Survey Parent/Child at Arrival for Symptoms
During the pandemic, many childcare and school directors have started to survey the parent about the child’s symptoms at arrival (such as asking if the child has a fever or a new cough). This does extend the drop-off process, but it prevents parents from dropping off kids who may display symptoms that go against your school’s sick policy.
12. Find Substitutes and Relief Staff Before You Need Them
Finally, don’t make your staff feel like they have to come to work even if they have cold or flu symptoms. One of the best cold and flu season tips is to support your staff by preparing for sick days before they happen. Every school director understands the fear of not having anyone to cover a class due to illness. Avoid this scenario by having a roster of substitutes before you need them.
Hopefully, the preventatives already in place from 2020 will continue to keep your students and staff safe and healthy throughout cold and flu season. Use these tips to cut down on germs this winter and spring.