Michelle Rupp: I’m joined now with Dr. Kristy Bondurant. She is AFMC’s epidemiologist. Dr. Bondurant, thank you for joining me.

Dr. Kristy Bondurant: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

MR: We’re talking about COVID and the school year is upon us. It seems that information is changing literally by the minute when it comes to how to handle this year’s semester. One question I wanted to ask is just what are some precautions that students who are returning can take?

KB: What we’d like to encourage everyone to do is to get vaccinated. We know that offers a great deal of protection for any severe disease and then hospitalizations and deaths. It’s important for children as much as it is for adults. We’d also like to encourage masking. It is really important right now with delta variant going through for anyone, those that are vaccinated or unvaccinated, to mask and to continue to watch our distance and wash our hands.

MR: All of those are important precautions to take for the school year. What about the kiddos who are under the age of 12?

KB: So, for those it’s very important that they mask. We highly encourage them to have masks to be able to protect themselves from getting any disease, but then also for passing it to others. We know that kids under 12 like to do a lot of things together, you know, playing at recess, interact at lunchtime. They’re very interactive in the classroom. So again, it’s really important for them to utilize masks if that’s possible.

MR: And are we still washing hands and hand sanitizing? I would suspect it’s hard for kids to keep the mask on under the age of 12. It’s hard for adults to keep them on, let’s be honest. But especially kids want to tug and rip it off and “I don’t want this,” so we continue to then encourage handwashing.

KB: Absolutely, yes. And I mean, even with teenagers, I watched my teenagers touch their mask all day long. So, any child under 12, yes, they’re going to be touching their mask and they may, you know, we’ve encouraged them to cough into their elbow, but they may still use their hands to cough into. So, any way that we can reduce then passing any disease along by washing those hands. It’s definitely an important process as well.

MR: You’re a mom. You’ve got kids. What are some of the ways that you’ve been able to not only encourage but have been successful at getting your kids to wear their mask or just remember coughing into your elbow, that kind of thing?

KB: We have open and honest discussions at our house. We try not to base those off fear. There’s no point in trying to scare them, but just to give them the facts. To talk to them like adults. We have a conversation of this is what we’re doing. This is how we’re handling it. This is what we would encourage you to do. They are very cautious and have been very willing to wear masks because we wear our masks. We model it for them. That modeling and those open conversations are so important to help our kids feel comfortable with some of these actions that we’re asking them to take. You know, we want our norms.

MR: Sure, and as it stands today, and we realized it could change by this afternoon, the guidance is still even if you are vaccinated, still wear your mask. That’s got to be hard though, I would think for some people. Particularly if they thought, well that’s kind of why I got the vaccine in the first place.

KB: Yeah, it’s definitely a conversation where you kind of meet people where they are and just try to let them know again, this is about severe disease and protecting people from hospitalizations, protecting people from death. I have to say that was a conversation we actually had to have with my daughter because she was, you know, “well I’m vaccinated. I can do this, that, or the other.” And we’re like, well in certain situations we’d still like you to wear your mask and we went through that process with her. It took a few times of having that conversation before it really clicked with her, but it was important to be able to again be open, honest, and be able to give those facts and take the judgment out. I think that’s something that is really important is to leave that on the table and keep it with, “this is an important step we would like you to take, and here’s how we’re doing the same.”

MR: All right, great advice, Dr. Bondurant. Thanks so much for coming in.

KB: Absolutely. Thank you.