top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Michael Urban

Back to School and Backpack Safety in a Pandemic World

Back to School and Backpack Safety in a Pandemic World

Normally when getting ready to go back to school occupational therapists across the nation like to educate people on backpack safety. The American Occupational Therapy Association ( has many tips about proper sizing and assuring the weight carried on a daily basis is not too heavy for the child as this can lead to several injuries to the back, neck and shoulders. 2020 has now provided us yet one more thing to prepare for, COVID-19.

After you make sure the backpack is sized correctly and prepare to monitor the weight of the bag throughout the school year here are some COVID-19 tips to also consider:

  1. Bag hygiene and ability to be easily cleaned. – Is your child the only person during the school day that will touch the backpack or in many younger classes, children have tight open cubbies for which the bags might occasionally touch one another, or an aide in the classroom might help to hang the bags. Though the virus is noted to live up to 72 hours on a surface, the effectiveness rate has been noted to be very minimal at 0.1% or less. If you are still concerned as the bags will be dragged across floors on the bus, classrooms, outside of school maybe, and touched by others, then consider a plastic clear style backpack that some schools required for safety measures prior to the pandemic which would allow for the bags to be easily wiped down.

  2. Items to send your child to school with in their bag (age appropriate) in addition to routine daily supplies:

    1. Well fitted face mask

    2. Small bottle of hand sanitizer

    3. Small sandwich bag of baby wipes or Clorox wipes to clean any high surface areas if encountered during the day.

  3. Things to prepare your child at any age for return to school during COVID-19 pandemic:

    1. Wear a face mask at all times when not in your home and 6-15ft of physical distance cannot be maintained outdoors. Make sure the nose and mouth are covered and do not remove the mask or pull it down to speak to someone if they cannot hear you.

    2. Good hand washing with warm water and soap for 20-30 seconds.

      1. Hand sanitizer is to be used when not able to reach a sink to properly wash hands. Once a sink is available the child should wash their hands and know not to touch their face (eyes, nose, mouth especially) unless they have clean hands.

      2. When using hand sanitizer, makes sure to rub the sanitizer over all surfaces including between the fingers and allowing to air dry before moving on.

    3. Socially/Physically distance at minimum of 6 ft (15ft is ideal) inside and outside. This could mean finding new ways to great people over hand shaking and hugging that first time seeing each other for the summer.

  4. Younger children in pre-k and kindergarten will most like not keep the mask on, not wash their hands well, nor maintain the 6 ft of distancing. Educate and talk to your child about the “bad germ” going around making people sick and why everyone should try to wear their masks, wash their hands really good, and maintain a safe distance from other people outside of the home. Children will learn this new norm just as they learn not to talk to strangers, you just need to take the time to talk to them and bring it down to their level. Many parents will be worried that their children will get the virus and the chances due exist but some studies for these children ability to have an effective viral load seems to show they might not pass the virus on. The older children starting in grades 4-12 seem to be the ones to carry the virus without symptoms and are able to spread the virus.

  5. Children with special needs, makes sure their equipment is being wiped down and be assured that the occupational, physical, and speech therapists along with the special aide teachers will be using their personal protective equipment when coming into close contact to care for your child. Upon your child’s return home, wiping their high contact areas on the wheelchair, walkers, and other devices would be beneficial.

In summary to the main points you need to focus on preparing your child would be the following:

  1. Properly size and check the weight daily of the backpack for your child. Make sure the bag is easily able to be wiped down or washed.

  2. Wear a properly fitted mask (3 layers preferred but a single or double layer is better than none.)

  3. Wash your hands properly for 20-30 seconds and do not touch your face if you were touching doors or other commonly high touched items. If there is no sink then use hand sanitizer and rub all areas of the hands and let it air dry.

  4. Maintain 6 ft of physical space between you and friends/teachers. To put this in reference a high school locker, MacBook charger with power full power cord, a household refrigerator and a twin bed mattress are all items that can be 6 ft long.

  5. Prepare them that school may start in class and in a few months have to close if the virus or “bad germ” person comes back around. Your family should have a plan in place to plan for a partial or total shut down in the worst-case scenario.


AOTA’s Backpack Safety Information and Activities

CDC’s Hand Washing Information

bottom of page