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Children returning to school – the new normal
Author: Prof Shaheen Mehtar
Published: 13/07/2020

As learners are returning to South African schools in increasing numbers, Prof Shaheen Mehtar, an infection prevention control specialist who is involved in the Global Health Department of Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences as well as the Infection Control African Network, provides guidelines for parents and learners.

Information for parents:

  • Although children are at a lower risk of COVID-19 infection, and if it does occur it is usually a mild infection, children should still follow infection control measures and they can carry the virus and infect others that are more vulnerable to the disease.

  • Prepare your children: Explain that the behavior in schools has changed so that they and their friends can be safe.

  • Check your children's health every day and do not send them to school if they are unwell.


1.      Children should follow the regulations around mask wearing prescribed by their school or the Department of Education.

2.      Children with disabilities such as deafness or autism might prefer face shields. Evidence about the use of shields is not very clear, but it does offer protection against droplets.

3.      Hand hygiene – ­washing or using a sanitizer ­– should be practised as often as possible, particularly after using the toilet.

4.      Children should try to keep a distance from friends when playing, although this is difficult for them.

5.      Children should keep a safe distance when in class.

6.      They should wipe their desks frequently with a damp cloth and allow it to dry.

7.      It is recommended that books are covered with a laminate which can be wiped down frequently.

8.      Children should keep their phones in a small Ziploc bag and not take it out unless absolutely necessary.

When travelling home on public transport children should:

    1. Sit near a window if possible and keep the window open

    2. Maintain a safe distance from the person next to them

    3. Not shout or jump up and down

    4. Keep their bags in their laps, if possible

9.      When your child gets home, take off the cloth mask immediately and drop it in soap and water to wash, dry and iron.

10.   Their hands and faces should be washed immediately, and let them take a shower if possible.

11.   Let them change out their uniforms and drop it in a plastic bag to be washed.

12.   They should change into other clothes.

13.   Wipe their books, laptop and other items with an alcohol swab.


14.   No hugging or close contact with friends – with or without masks.

15.   No sharing of food, toys, phones or equipment with friends at school.

16.   No touching of the face to adjust the mask if possible – it should be done before leaving home.

17.   No playing of contact sports unless it is well regulated – the school will advise.

18.   When picking up the children, don't hug or kiss them until it is safe to do so at home.

19.   Don't forget to clean their phones and other articles once they get home.

Other precautions

  • Disinfection tunnels or spraying of any humans have not been proven to be effective and can aggravate skin and respiratory conditions like asthma in children.

  • If a person at school is found to be Covid-19 positive, don't panic!

  • If the person has not been in contact then you are safe and don't have to worry.

Cleaning and disinfection twice a day is sufficient to keep the school environment clean.