Expert Q&A: COVID-19 and Schools Reopening

Learn how to weigh the risks of sending your child back to school with these tips from a pediatric infectious disease expert. 

Question: Our school district is reopening this year. How do I know it’s safe enough to send my child back to school?


It’s unrealistic to think any protocol or procedure is going to make returning to school completely safe. The pandemic is far from over and sending your child back to school will involve some level of risk.

The best way to reduce that risk is for every eligible person to be vaccinated, including teachers, school staff and children 12 and older. The FDA recently approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for ages 16 and older. It still has emergency authorization status for ages 12 to 15 simply because it has not yet been in use in that age group for long enough to receive approval, but it probably will be approved before long. The experience with the vaccine to date shows that it is very safe and effective in that age group. Meanwhile, most vaccines still aren’t available to most children, so it continues to be critical to take other precautions.

A significant part of cutting down that risk is physical distancing. That may not always be easy to do in a school setting, but there are ways to reduce the risk of transmission; namely, cutting down class sizes and limiting large groups. Smaller class sizes, or dividing kids into “pods,” also makes contact tracing and singling out the cause of infection easier when it occurs.

Masks are another important factor when weighing the risks. Ideally, anyone who can wear a mask, including teachers and students, should. This still applies in small group settings and especially when desks are spaced less than six feet apart. Growing data suggest that, even when people are practicing social distancing, the risk of environmental contamination, especially indoors, is greater without a mask. So, ideally children should wear masks at all times, even when classrooms are set up to allow ample social distance.

I like the way the CDC refers to “layers of protection” in its current guidelines. You want to build up as much protection as you can. Distancing helps. If you can’t distance, wearing masks, gathering in small groups, or pods, etc. become even more important.

Lastly, and perhaps most important, find out if your school has a long-term plan for when infections occur. Your school district should be working with public health officials to set up procedures for contact tracing so that when, not if, risk exposures happen, they will be ready to handle them. If they don’t, I would strongly consider continuing with virtual teaching for my child.

Many essential workers don’t have the choice to stay home in a virtual environment, but for others, making the decision to send their child back to school comes down to their family’s level of risk acceptance. To help you decide what that is, this Back to School Safety Checklist of school safety protocols can help.

In the meantime, as you weigh your options, keep up with measures essential to protecting you and your family. Wear a mask, especially indoors in public spaces, keep at least six feet apart from others and continue to wash hands frequently. And don’t neglect to get flu shots for your family and children.

Most parents of children with a rheumatologic condition have a lot of experience keeping their child safe. You know how to do this. You’ve kept them safe. Keep keeping them safe. 

David Cennimo, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

Coronavirus Updates

Sign up today for email updates on coronavirus and arthritis.

I Want to Contribute
I Need Help
  • Donate


    Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life.

  • Volunteer


    Join us and become a Champion of Yes. There are many volunteer opportunities available.

  • Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Take part to be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis.

  • Partner


    Proud Partners of the Arthritis Foundation make an annual commitment to directly support the Foundation’s mission.


Ways to Give

Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life. Whether it is supporting cutting-edge research, 24/7 access to one-on-one support, resources and tools for daily living, and more, your gift will be life-changing.

Make a Donation

Help millions of people live with less pain and fund groundbreaking research to discover a cure for this devastating disease. Please, make your urgently-needed donation to the Arthritis Foundation now!

Become a Member

Become an Arthritis Foundation member today for just $20 and you'll receive access to helpful tools..... and more. 

Make a Honor or Memorial Gift

Honor a loved one with a meaningful donation to the Arthritis Foundation. We'll send a handwritten card to the honoree or their family notifying them of your thoughtful gift.

Gift Planning

I want information on ways to remember the AF in my will, trust or other financial planning vehicles.


Volunteer Opportunities

The Arthritis Foundation is focused on finding a cure and championing the fight against arthritis with life-changing information, advocacy, science and community. We can only achieve these goals with your help. Strong, outspoken and engaged volunteers will help us conquer arthritis. By getting involved, you become a leader in our organization and help make a difference in the lives of millions. Join us and become a Champion of Yes.

Become a Volunteer

More About Volunteering


Give Just 10 Minutes.

Tell us what matters most to you. Change the future of arthritis.

By taking part in the Live Yes! INSIGHTS assessment, you’ll be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis, for yourself and for 54 million others. And all it takes is just 10 minutes.

Your shared experiences will help:

- Lead to more effective treatments and outcomes
- Develop programs to meet the needs of you and your community
- Shape a powerful agenda that fights for you

Now is the time to make your voice count, for yourself and the entire arthritis community. 

Currently this program is for the adult arthritis community.  Since the needs of the juvenile arthritis (JA) community are unique, we are currently working with experts to develop a customized experience for JA families. 

How are you changing the future?

By sharing your experience, you’re showing decision-makers the realities of living with arthritis, paving the way for change. You’re helping break down barriers to care, inform research and create resources that make a difference in people’s lives, including your own.

Get Started


Meet Our Partners

As a partner, you will help the Arthritis Foundation provide life-changing resources, science, advocacy and community connections for people with arthritis, the nations leading cause of disability. Join us today and help lead the way as a Champion of Yes.


Our Trailblazers are committed partners ready to lead the way, take action and fight for everyday victories. They contribute $2,000,000 to $2,749,000


Our Visionary partners help us plan for a future that includes a cure for arthritis. These inspired and inventive champions have contributed $1,500,00 to $1,999,999.


Our Pioneers are always ready to explore and find new weapons in the fight against arthritis. They contribute $1,000,000 to $1,499,999.


Our Pacesetters ensure that we can chart the course for a cure for those who live with arthritis. They contribute $500,000 to $999,000.


Our Signature partners make their mark by helping us identify new and meaningful resources for people with arthritis. They contribute $250,000 to $499,999.


Our Supporting partners are active champions who provide encouragement and assistance to the arthritis community. They contribute $100,000 to $249,999.