As fall approaches, the back-to-school discussion has been nothing short of spirited.

Yolanda Enrich FNP at Novant Health Adult Primary Care in Waughtown
Yolanda Enrich, FNP.

In North Carolina, Forsyth County and Mecklenburg County schools have opted to continue with remote learning. While other counties around the state are considering a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning. These decisions come after Gov. Roy Cooper recently outlined plans for reopening schools in August.

Yolanda Enrich, a family nurse practitioner at Novant Health Adult Primary Care Waughtown in Winston-Salem, has been on the front lines treating patients with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Here she offers advice for keeping you and your children safe. She also answers questions from readers on mask-related issues.

Are kids less likely to get COVID-19 or are they simply less likely to show symptoms?

COVID-19 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents, but so far evidence suggests that children and adolescents are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults. Children are also less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to spread the infection or have a severe disease as a result. At this point, however, kids are not being tested as much as adults, so more data is needed to make a complete assessment.

While some counties have opted for remote learning, others are heading back to school using a hybrid or alternating day schedule. Does this actually reduce the risk for contracting COVID-19?

We all want our children to go back to school. And the new safety precautions, if followed by everyone, should help to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But we also know that large gatherings, or the more an individual interacts with others, the higher the risk of spread. For children that are going back to in-person learning, it’s important to remember to social distance, wear a mask and practice frequent hand-washing to protect themselves and others.

Is there anything parents can do before school starts to help their children get used to wearing a mask?

Practice! Practice! Practice! And let your children have some ownership over their mask choices, maybe let them pick their favorite character, color or something that matches their outfit. Overall, the goal is to normalize and model the proper safety habits.

Is it safe for children to play outdoor games together?

Children can play outdoors together as long as they can maintain a distance of at least 6 feet. On a local level, middle and high schools are still in the process of determining what sports can/can’t be played this fall. But in most cases, common sense prevails. Sports like tennis, where social distancing can be accomplished, are fine.

My church is offering in-person service again, is it safe if I go and wear a mask?

Many churches are now offering remote streaming options of their services. This is your safest option. However, I understand and appreciate the desire to once again gather in-person for church services. If your church has decided to start meeting again in person, outdoor gatherings are the preferred and safest way to meet. But regardless of whether your church is meeting inside or outside, it is best that you continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Over time I’ve noticed that my cloth face mask is getting loose and it will occasionally fall below my nose while I’m wearing it. Is that bad?

You may be able to tie a knot in the ear loop piece or change the elastic bands, if this does not work it may be time for a new cloth mask. The mask should definitely fit snuggly around your nose and chin.

Is it OK to take my mask off to speak to my hard-of-hearing grandparents?

Ideally no, you should actually try to keep your mask on when around your grandparents as elderly people are at a higher risk to contract or develop a serious disease from COVID-19. One work-around option that you can consider is a clear mask face covering. Novant Health recently started using clear masks when treating hard-of-hearing and deaf patients.

I went out to eat for the first time the other day. While the tables were spread apart and the wait staff had masks on, the customers did not wear masks at their tables. Obviously, you have to take your mask off to eat, but should you leave it on when talking to each other, the wait staff and walking around the restaurant?

Yes, if you cannot social distance and you are not in the process of eating, you should wear your mask to help keep yourself and others safe.

I have allergies and sinus problems which have gotten worse since having to wear a mask for long periods of time. Is there anything I can do to make things better?

While mask wearing can be annoying, the truth is your allergies and sinus problems are most likely not related to your mask. If you are struggling with allergies this year, it is best to talk to your doctor about treatment.

Can you get a fungal and respiratory infection from wearing a mask too long?

No, you will not get a fungal or respiratory infection from wearing a mask. However, you need to change your mask if it becomes moist. Bacteria can form on moist surfaces and that is why the mask should be washed regularly following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can wash your mask with regular laundry, using laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting, then dry completely either using the highest setting of your dryer or air dry preferably under direct sunlight. Make sure the mask is completely dry.

How often should I replace my blue surgical masks?

Ideally you should replace them daily or if they become contaminated or moist. A more sustainable option is to use and frequently wash a cloth face covering.

I have heard that masks are basically rendered ineffective once they are moist with spittle, whether from sneezing or coughing, or even just speaking and breathing. If this is true, should we be changing our masks out every hour or so instead of once a day?

When a mask becomes wet or moist the resistance to airflow increases and it may indeed be less effective. Change it as soon as you can, and if you are using a reusable mask, wash it and let it dry completely.

If husband and wife both have COVID-19, should they still wear a mask around each other at home?

When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19 the recommendation is for them to wear a mask around others. More than likely the husband and wife would have the same strain of the virus, but again, the recommendation is to mask around others.

For answers to more of your questions on masking and how they keep us safe click here.

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