How safe is a classroom? Dallas doctor answers questions for parents

Many families face a deadline to decide if their children will be in a classroom or learning at home when the new school year begins.

The Centers for Disease Control released guidelines for schools to consider when it comes to safety in the classroom including suggestions to cancel field trips, expand the distance between desks to at least six feet and stagger arrival and dismissal times.

MORE: Continued coverage of COVID-19 & schools

While President Donald Trump has said CDC’s guidelines create too many challenges, some parents and teachers are worried that full classrooms carry too many risks.

FOX 4’s Good Day got some practical advice from Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, the chief of infectious diseases at Children's Health and a professor at UT Southwestern.

Q: Masks are mandatory for kids 10 and older under the Texas governor’s orders. Do you have any advice on the best masks that kids will actually wear?

Dr. Kahn: So what I would say is for parents is first these are gonna be cloth masks and there’s some very good information out there. The CDC has a video that’s less than a minute to show you how to make your own cloth mask. And I would strongly recommend that parents try these masks on their children over the next several weeks to get them used to wearing a mask and then sort of work out all the issues because these masks can be uncomfortable at times. They can be hot. And of course, children are not used to wearing masks. Some of them may be right now. So for sure find out the ways to make these masks. Have your children wear them. Make sure there’s a tight seal around the face and get used to this new normal.

Q: You see a lot of kids already wearing masks but they’re going out for a walk or into a grocery store. That’s one thing. Being in school for eight hours plus transportation time in the morning and afternoon is another thing. How do you get children to keep masks on?

Dr. Kahn: This presents all kinds of challenges for the education system and this is the new reality. Wearing masks is going to be essential in preventing the spread of the virus through schools or through the community as we’re doing now. So it may be helpful to have your children wear the mask at home for a little while for extended periods of time to get used to it.

Q: The mask is one thing. How do you get a child to not run over and hug her best friend that she hasn’t seen since before spring break?

Dr. Kahn: This is really going to be a challenge. Humans are social creatures. Children are even more so. There’s going to be that urge to hug your friends and be in close contact with your friends. And it’s important to give them the message that they are contributing to stopping this epidemic, that there are actions they can do to stop the spread of the virus and empower them with that knowledge that they are also contributing to the greater public health for the greater good. That’s I think a strategy that will work better for older kids. But even for the younger kids, they’ll understand those concepts.

Q: The Dallas school district has already invested a lot of money in clear plastic barriers to put on desks and face shields that they’re asking the kids to wear. How effective are they? Do they still need to wear a mask?

Dr. Kahn: Masks are essential and required whether there are Plexiglas barriers or face protections. You know, the Plexiglas barriers depends on how big they are and it’s really important to maintain the distance between students, which is obviously going to be a challenge for school districts. These Plexiglas barriers if they are high enough would prevent some of the airflow. So all these are all additive in reducing the risk of spreading the virus. As you mentioned earlier, kids may be in school for many hours a day and the longer you’re in close quarters with somebody that’s potentially infected the greater change that you may get infected. So all of these measures help in preventing the spread of the virus.

It’s also important for parents to know that if their children are sick – if they have a fever or even the sniffles – they need to stay at home and not go to school.

RELATED: Some North Texas parents still unsure whether to have their kids go back to school or do virtual learning