We’re not where we hoped we’d be.

This year, back to school was supposed to be back to normal. Instead, COVID-19 infection rates are up, mask mandates have been reinstituted in some places and anxiety and confusion – and community spread – are high.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reversed its guidance from April and now says people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine should wear masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the U.S. where the pandemic is spreading again. That includes much of North Carolina.

Even in facilities that don’t require masks, it’s still a good idea to wear one, especially during a large gathering.

Here are a few other precautions you can take to help make this school year a little more normal for you and your teen.

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1. Student athletes should take it slowly.

If last year was a year of (relative) inactivity, this year’s ramp-up to any sport should take that into account. “Any time you're out of practice, when you get back to doing it at a high level, those muscles are kind of shocked,” said Dr. Adam Culver, a primary care sports medicine physician at Novant Health Waxhaw Family & Sports Medicine in Waxhaw, North Carolina. “You just tend to get injured a little bit more.”

He would know. Culver is not just a sports medicine doctor; he’s also an athlete. He played basketball at a NCAA Division III school, Trinity University in San Antonio, managing to avoid injuries throughout his career.

2. Vaccines are essential.

Vaccines help prevent diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, chickenpox, polio and measles – as well as pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea. North Carolina law requires all children to receive certain immunizations, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

3. A meningitis vaccine is required for all 16-year-olds in North Carolina.

As of last August, a booster dose to protect against meningitis is now required in North Carolina for adolescents entering the 12th grade – or by 17 years of age – whichever comes first. Meningitis is rare – but it’s very serious. It spreads the same way the coronavirus does – through respiratory droplets.

“That’s one of the reasons it spreads so easily,” said pediatrician Dr. Allison Hudson, lead physician at Novant Health Pediatrics Oak Hollow in High Point, North Carolina. “Anybody who knows adolescents knows they're often crowded closely together, snuggled up next to each other. They travel in packs.”

4. Annual checkups should be a priority.

Dr. James Lye of Novant Health Eastover Pediatrics in Charlotte, North Carolina said many students get a physical just because they’re required to in order to play sports. The state waived that requirement last year due to the pandemic, which means too many young people may have gone more than a year without a wellness visit. “The signed sports physical form is … what drives a large portion of patients into pediatrician offices for checkups,” Lye said. “Without that incentive, many will drop off of our schedules, missing … immunizations, depression screening, risk behavior assessment and chronic disease management.”

Even if your child did get a sports physical, that’s no substitute for a full checkup where your pediatrician performs an evaluation of their physical, developmental, emotional and social well-being. Your child should see a pediatrician every year to make sure they’re in good health and that doctors have the chance to catch problems early.

5. Make it OK not to be OK.

Take a lesson from Simone Biles. Talk to your child about how the Olympic athlete listened to her body and opted out of a big, important event – on a global stage – because she prioritized her health and well-being. It’s normal for you and your child to be nervous about returning to school now, said Dr. Kaylan Edwards, a pediatrician with Novant Health Pediatrics Brunswick. What we’ve been referring to as “the new normal” doesn’t feel all that normal.

“If a child brings up that they’re … scared, always acknowledge that is normal,” Edwards said. “Sometimes, young children and even teenagers think, ‘This is how I truly feel, but it doesn’t seem like there’s someone else who feels that way.’”