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Kids headed back to school? Grab these COVID-19 must-haves for in-person learning

Many kids are returning to the classroom amid the pandemic, and sharing school supplies may not be the safest thing right now.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Parents can expect to spend an average of $848 on school supplies this year.

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Many students went back to school for in-person learning today. A number of states are reinstating their indoor mask policy and the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccinated people continues to change. But the school rules and supplies look a lot different than they did in 2019. Some schools are recommending, or even requiring, that students wear masks as a preventative measure. And even though most teachers add hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to the school list, those items are more important than before to help fight the virus. 

The new variants are a good reason to buy more supplies than what your list calls for. Chances are, there will be less sharing, more social distancing and school guidelines that hope to prevent the spread of the virus. In the meantime, adding a few layers of protection and defense against the virus are best for children returning to in-person learning. 

A lot is still unknown right now, but we're here to help make back-to-school shopping a little easier this year. Here are a few items you can pick up to help your kids protect themselves from the coronavirus. In the meantime, here's when kids could get the COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine myths you'll want to avoid and what you need to know about coronavirus herd immunity.

Items your kids will need when schools reopen

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Water bottle

For your older kids in high school, a self-cleaning bottle is a great option for them to take to school daily. As for your elementary and middle school-aged kids, opt for a motivational water bottle that reminds them to drink their water.

Sally Nieman/CNET

Multiple face masks

Since the COVID-19 vaccine is still being tested in children (more below), face masks remain an essential part of preventing the spread of the coronavirus -- especially the new variants. Here are some of our favorite masks for young kids and for teenagers. And for those participating in sports or gym class, here are some of the best masks for exercising and running outside. If your kids are in speech therapy, a clear face mask could prove to be beneficial.

Angela Lang/CNET

Hand sanitizer

Send your kids to school with hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, per the CDC. According to the Food and Drug Administration, you should avoid these recalled hand sanitizers due to toxic methanol. Here are some good hand sanitizer options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Extra school supplies

During this time, borrowing pencils or other objects is not recommended as it breaks the physical distancing barrier between two students, or student and teacher. It's best to send your kids to school with extra pencils, paper, glue and other items they'll need each day.

Angela Lang/CNET

Tissues or disinfecting wipes

Send your kids to school with a package of tissues and/or disinfecting wipes to prevent them from moving around the classroom more than necessary. Their own stash of tissues is helpful for allergies and either wet or dry wipes can clean fingers or a spill, plus touch common items like door handles and water faucets. 

How much can parents plan to spend on supplies this year?

Along with all the other factors involved in sending kids back to the classroom, it looks like families are preparing to buy more this year. The National Retail Foundation survey predicts that families with children from elementary to high school will spend an average of $848.90 this year on school supplies this year -- $59 more than last year when most kids did remote learning. 

Throughout the pandemic, there have been several shortages of items like toilet paper, meat and cleaning supplies. Right now, many stores have their usual back-to-school display with plenty of supplies. But as the first day of school gets closer, you may not have a wide selection to choose from. Right before your school starts, you may see a shortage of face masks, pocket hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. 

Fortunately, over half of K-12 students started back-to-school shopping earlier this month and 39% took advantage of deals from Amazon's Prime Day and Target Deal Days. It's best to knock out your shopping list now instead of waiting till after the first day of school. 

What's the latest update on vaccine approval for kids?

At this time, no vaccine has been approved for those who are under the age of 16 -- Pfizer is the only one that has an approved vaccine for teens age 16 and older. Moderna and Pfizer are both testing their vaccines on kids between the ages of 12 and 17

Moderna expects to have its label expanded for the vaccine to cover those between the ages of 12 and 17 by this summer. Johnson and Johnson, which was authorized for emergency use in February, has been paused due to a rare clotting problem. J&J has plans to test its vaccine in kids ages 12 and younger "soon," including infants, the New York Times reported, but it's unclear when it will happen.

Watch this: Stanford expert's bottom line on what a COVID vaccine means for you

What are COVID-19 safety protocols to prepare for kids to go back to school?

Here are some recommendations to follow when sending your kids back to the classroom.

  • Check their temperature daily. If it's over 100.4, keep them at home.
  • Make sure they don't have any COVID-19 related symptoms, like a sore throat or coughing.
  • Remind them to wash their hands thoroughly and often while at school.
  • Remind them to socially distance themselves from others and to keep their masks on unless eating or drinking.
  • Let them know that while it's kind, sharing school supplies isn't the safest option right now.
  • When they return home from school, spray their backpacks with disinfectant spray.

For more information, here's where to find a leftover COVID-19 vaccine near you, all the COVID-19 vaccine details you need to know and where to get the vaccine right now.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.