Prioritize health this school year

October 3, 2023

Now that a new school year has begun, it is the time to remind local communities that continuing to protect ourselves against influenza, COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus and other infectious diseases is a powerful way to also support Delaware students and school staff.

The flu, COVID and RSV are dangerous but preventable respiratory illnesses that can spread quickly, especially in close-knit settings. A single infected person has the potential to set off a chain reaction that can disrupt schools and communities, impacting everyone from students to educators, nutrition staff, school bus drivers, security personnel, their families and more. 

Simple, safe and effective prevention helps keep pathogens out of classrooms. Healthy lifestyle choices boost public immunity. To help reduce school disruptions this year, we encourage everyone to:

  • Get sufficient sleep, eat nutritious meals, practice good oral hygiene and get enough physical activity to keep your body healthy
  • Stay home when sick, and know your school and work return policies
  • Schedule annual well visit appointments and stay up to date on routine vaccinations, which includes flu and COVID-19 vaccines
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, dry hands with a paper towel and use the paper towel to turn off the faucet
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or bent arm. Throw the tissue away without touching the bin
  • Keep hands away from noses, mouths and eyes
  • Routinely clean surfaces
  • Learn more about viral signs and symptoms
  • Have a plan in place for exposure or illness.

For flu: Experts predicted this year’s flu season would start as early as September or October. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccine provided substantial protection for all age groups last year. School-aged children are at higher risk of serious complications from the flu, so consider vaccines early in the fall. Everyone 6 months and older is eligible for vaccines, unless they have a specific contraindication.

For COVID-19: The public health emergency due to COVID-19 has ended, but the virus still requires attention. Cases may increase among different locations and populations at various times. As needed, consider wearing masks in crowded places if cases rise, or if at higher risk for illness. Take a COVID-19 test immediately if symptoms appear or test five days after exposure to someone with COVID-19. Those who test positive for COVID-19 should follow CDC isolation guidanceThe CDC is now recommending everyone ages 6 months and older get the newly updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine to help lower the risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death from the coronavirus. These updated vaccines are expected to provide protection against currently circulating variants and are available now. Increased protection is especially important for those who are high risk, elderly, those in nursing homes and those who are pregnant, immunocompromised or have lung and heart conditions.  

For RSVCases of RSV tend to rise from fall to spring. RSV typically causes cold-like symptoms but can sometimes be severe, especially in infants and older adults. In May, the first RSV vaccine was approved for those 60 and older. Those most at-risk for RSV complications are children under age 2, adults over 60, and those who are immunocompromised, or with a lung or heart condition. 

Deciding to get vaccinated in the early part of the K-12 school year is a proactive choice that demonstrates a commitment to the health of the entire school community. For individuals and families who may have concerns regarding vaccine safety and efficacy, it is important to speak with healthcare professionals and rely on reputable sources for information.

Classroom environments must remain places where students and school staff can work, learn and thrive without illness. We encourage all members of school communities to make informed decisions that prioritize their well-being as well as the well-being of their local schools. Together, we can all help lay the groundwork for a strong, successful academic year ahead.

Mark Holodick is the secretary of the Delaware Department of Education. Josette D. Manning is the secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter