Adjusting to back to school while prioritizing family well-being

Penn Medicine experts offer tips on how to manage anxiety over COVID-19 variants, monkeypox, and other stressors as the new school year begins.

As the public learns to live with COVID-19 and the emergence of new variants—while having to contend with monkeypox and its looming implications—many families can feel warry about the start of a new school year.

An older sibling helps a younger sibling put on a mask outside of school.

But there are ways to help make the transition easier while prioritizing health. E. John Wherry, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology in the Perelman School of Medicine, and Jennifer Brady, associate director of employee benefits and wellness at Penn Medicine, weighed in on how to take on the new school year amidst the continued pandemic.

The good news, says Wherry, is that the average case of COVID-19 for those who have been vaccinated is very mild, doesn’t involve intense medical care, and resolves itself at home. That said, it is important to be mindful that COVID-19 is still here, Wherry warns.

Wherry points to vaccines and boosters being critical to getting COVID-19 under control. Additionally, now that the bivalent booster has been approved, Wherry strongly encourages everyone who is eligible to get their shot this fall.

According to Wherry, that there is no real major threat of children contracting monkeypox, though rare cases have been reported. As a best practice for overall good health and hygiene, hand washing is simple yet incredibly effective. However, if a parent thinks their child was exposed to monkeypox, watch out for lesions to develop on the hands. In the meantime, people shouldn’t be concerned about monkeypox unless symptoms appear.

While both are infectious diseases, monkeypox and COVID-19 are very different—for one, the monkeypox virus is not nearly as contagious. And when it comes to school concerns, the risk of monkeypox upending another school year is extremely low.

Healthy choices help bolster the immune system and keep energy up. As a registered dietician, Brady notes there are many ways to strengthen the immune system. For one, don’t “sleep on” sleep—research shows that sleep helps the body fight off viruses and other infections. And taking proactive steps to protect one’s self, one’s family, and the community against COVID-19 (as well as other sicknesses such as the flu and colds) should alleviate a lot of stress.

When it comes to stress and current events, following qualified experts from organizations such as the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health is your best bet—don’t rely one media report as the defining opinion or takeaway. Along with simplifying one’s news intake, simplifying a preventative care routine with healthy habits can help ease a family back into the school year.

This story is by Dinah Schuster. Read more at Penn Medicine News.