What parents need to know about masking and testing when COVID rates are high – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER

The COVID-19 risk to people in our community has increased in recent weeks. In late April, our case rates placed King County in the intermediate COVID-19 community tier. Unfortunately, we continue to receive many reports of COVID-19 cases and clusters across the community, including from schools and daycares.

With these elevated levels of COVID-19, parents may be wondering what to consider when masking and testing now.

Should my child wear a mask at school and daycare?

The risk of exposure to COVID-19 is higher than a month ago, both within schools and in the community. For this reason, Public Health recommends wearing masks in public indoor spaces and other preventive measures, especially since we reached the medium community level.

Every family must weigh the risks and benefits of wearing masks for their children, but at this point parents should know that the risk of catching COVID-19 has increased in recent weeks. Here are some tips for your family:

  • Assess the health risks in your family and take precautions especially if your child or family members are immunocompromised or have conditions that put them at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease. Wearing a mask is especially important for people at higher risk of serious illness. You may want to speak to your family’s healthcare provider to create a COVID-19 treatment plan for those who are at higher risk of serious illness if infected.
  • You can also ask your doctor to explore preventative medications for people with compromised immune systems. When taken before infection or exposure, a drug called Evusheld helps your body fight the coronavirus and avoid getting really sick or having to go to the hospital.

If you don’t have a healthcare provider, Public Health’s Community Health Access Program can connect you to medical providers and health insurance options.

Children can be exposed to COVID-19 in many settings, including schools, daycares, homes, after-school activities, family events, and other community-based activities. Because of this, it is important to take precautions and measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 throughout the community and to consider masking in other activities in your child’s life. If your child wears a mask at school, but then goes unmasked to an indoor party with a group of other people — especially if there isn’t good ventilation — then their risk has just increased.

What are the mask instructions for schools and childcare right now?

Public Health recently issued updated recommendations for schools and child care in King County. In light of the increasing risk of transmission of COVID-19, Public Health recommends that all students and staff wear masks exposed to COVID-19 to prevent further spread if there are concerns about continued transmission in schools and childcare. Public Health recommends this approach even if there is only one case that was contagious at school when in close contact with others.

This could mean that masking is only implemented in a specific classroom or group of students, but also that universal indoor masking is recommended for the whole school, depending on the extent of the potential spread. In these cases, universal internal masking is a recommendation and not a requirement.

It is important that staff and students use high quality, well-fitting masks such as the N95, KN95 and KF94 whenever possible.

And if you or your child has a stress from school or childcare, test immediately and repeat the test every 5-7 days. This can help identify cases and prevent further spread in the school.

How reliable are rapid home tests? Do they work for the COVID-19 variants?

Rapid home tests can help identify people who have COVID-19 and could pass it on to others, but they’re not perfect. The quick tests for at home work for all currently circulating variants. We encourage people to use any test they have access to, whether it’s a rapid at-home test or a PCR test.

When testing instructions are followed correctly, self-tests are very good at detecting a high viral load of COVID-19 when someone is likely to be contagious. If you get a positive result, you can be very confident in that result and should isolate yourself.

Rapid tests can be negative in people with COVID-19 early in infection when virus levels are lower, even if they have symptoms. It may take a few days to test positive as virus levels increase. For this reason, a negative rapid test cannot “exclude” that someone is infected but has not yet tested positive.

Self-tests are more accurate if you test twice if you get a negative result. Take a second test 24-72 hours after the first. If any of the tests are positive, you should consider yourself infected. This is because the accuracy of a negative result depends on many factors, e.g. B. how long after exposure you take the test and how many viruses are in your body at that time.

Make sure you test at least 5 days after exposure and follow the directions on the packaging for the best chance of an accurate measurement.

Consider getting tested in these situations, even if you are vaccinated

  • Immediately if you have symptoms of COVID-19 such as a cough, fever or sore throat. If you are symptomatic and test negative, stay home and test again in 24-48 hours.
  • If you have been around someone who has had COVID-19, even if you have no symptoms. In this case, it is good to test 5-7 days after exposure.
  • Immediately prior to family reunions, parties or other indoor group events, or as close to the time of the event as possible, particularly if unvaccinated children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems or at risk of serious illness are present
  • Consider testing after attending major indoor events without masks.

Advice for families traveling Memorial Day weekend and beyond

  • Make sure you are up to date on all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including booster doses. Booster vaccinations provide important protection against hospitalization and death, particularly in adults. For information on where to get a booster shot, go to our Get Vaccinated page.
  • Use high-quality, well-fitting masks (N95, KN95, and KF94) in indoor public spaces and at group gatherings.
  • Check ventilation wherever you go. Improving indoor air quality through ventilation, filtration and other strategies like UV germicidal technology can make a big difference in risk reduction. Open windows and doors. It’s safer outside than inside. The EPA provides information on how to improve indoor air quality.
  • Test before meeting high-risk people and just before air travel.

Originally posted on 5/24/22

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