Nova Scotia·Q&A

How to keep your children safe from COVID-19 as they head back to school

Nova Scotia students will be heading back to school next week for another year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Peter Lin, a family physician and CBC medical columnist, explains what parents can do to keep their children safe.

Students in Nova Scotia will head back to class on Tuesday

Children are seen sitting at school desks wearing face masks in class. Students in Nova Scotia will be back in class on Tuesday, with a mostly normal routine. (Oksana Kuzmina/stock.adobe.com)

Nova Scotia students will be heading back to school next week for another year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students will be back in class on Tuesday, with a mostly normal routine

Masks will still be required for at least the first week. However, the mask mandate could be lifted on Sept. 15, as long as the population reaches 75 per cent fully vaccinated and case numbers remain low. 

Still, the delta variant is driving the fourth wave across Canada and children under 12 continue to be vulnerable since they can't be vaccinated.

Dr. Peter Lin, a family physician and CBC medical columnist, spoke with CBC's Information Morning Halifax on Thursday to explain what parents can do to keep their children safe.

CBC House doctor Peter Lin tells us how to prep for another school year under COVID-19. 7:04

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What masks are best for children?

The key is the size. That's why they have to really try it on. If it's too big, it's going to be irritating, especially if it's close to their eyes. 

Look for the ones with a bit of shape to them. They have that little beak shape and that creates a pocket of air in front of your child's nose and mouth, and it makes breathing easier.

Three-ply is going to be better than two-ply, but you can just put two masks on as well so you can get the same kind of protection.

Kids do have problems with those ear loops because it causes chafing of the skin on the top of the ear so put a bit of Vaseline there and that'll protect the skin. Avoid the really thick straps because they end up pulling the ears forward and that's very uncomfortable as well. 

There are strap hooks that you can hook the two straps behind your head. If you're going to use anything like that, just make sure your child practices taking it on and off.

What happens if your child tests positive for COVID-19 during the school year?

Usually they come home and they're positive and then they infect everybody in the family. Remember, the virus can't move on its own — no wings or feet — so it needs to be near people.

One case becomes three or four … that's why everybody needs to wear a mask in that household. The mask on the child that's infected is to keep the virus near them so they can't spread it out as far and the masks on the parents and everybody else, is to reduce their sucking power. You can also add a face shield to the mask.

A sick child with a cold wipes his nose with a tissue. If a child tests positive for COVID-19, Dr. Peter Lin says their family should limit contact with them. (Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock)

Unfortunately, we can't all eat together because your masks are off at the same time and so the child that's sick when they're eating, everybody should have their mask on or not be in the room.

The bottom line is to avoid the breath of the infected person by putting things in the way. Distance, ventilation, masks, face shields — those are all things that get in the way of the virus. 

Many families might be a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people — what do they have to keep in mind?

Many parents and older kids might be vaccinated, but the younger ones are not. And I think we all believe that once you are vaccinated, you're back to normal life … but we now know that vaccinated people can still get infected and they can carry the virus.

Let's say I have two shots. I can go to parties, bars and sporting events. The vaccine has given me an internal army to defend me from invasion but that army cannot go inside my nose cells because they're too big and so the virus can set up shop in my nose cells. Therefore, when I breathe out, I will be able to infect unvaccinated people around me.

The solution is actually very simple. Vaccines will give me an army on the inside, but I still have to do the mask, distance and ventilation to make sure I don't let the virus hitch a ride in my nose back home.

Keeping distance, wearing masks, adequate ventilation and vaccinations — those are all big players in our defence. But what about home testing?

That's a new tool that we're thinking about. Basically you're looking for kids and staff members who are carrying the virus and we keep them away from the school system.

Kids won't want that big [swab] up their nose so new ones are these little Q-tips that you just put in the tip of your nose. The good ones can give you a result in 15 minutes — negative, you go to school, positive, you stay home and isolate. That way, you protect the community. 

A Toronto child gets a COVID-19 swab test on Aug. 1. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Now, most of the schools in Canada do not have testing, but all of our kids can do distance and masks, and that will actually protect them against delta, lambda, epsilon, whatever this thing comes up with. 

If the virus is nowhere near your child, then your child will not be harmed by the virus.

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