CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – COVID-19 is still making its way through communities as students head back to school. Things are getting closer to normal than they have been for a while. But health experts say that doesn’t mean it is time for parents and students to let their guard down.

“It was kind of good but we had to wear masks and stuff and we wouldn’t go to the cafeteria and stuff. We’d eat in class,” explained third grade student Aubriana Lark. Most of the time she has been old enough to go to school Lark has been dealing with challenges created by COVID-19. In Kanawha County this year, masks will be encouraged but not required.

“The school I’m going to we don’t have to wear masks anymore and we can eat in the cafeteria now,” Lark said.

Alicia Warden is the Lead School Nurse for Kanawha County Schools. She said prevention will remain a top priority.

“We are still going to encourage cleanliness, things like that. We don’t have any mandated guidelines for social distancing and things like that, but we do have extra funds available for Clorox wipes, masks and hand sanitizer. Those kinds of things are going to be readily available,” Warden said.

Dr. Steven Eshenaur is the Health Officer with the Kanawha Charleston Health Department. He said this year all school-aged children can be immunized which should reduce the number of COVID cases. COVID vaccinations are not required.

“Vaccinations are now available all the way down to preschoolers. This is very important because those children also get COVID as well,” Eshenaur said. “But all school aged children are now within an age group to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.”

Now that some of those precautions have been relaxed, students are excited about the possibilities. For Lark it is a chance to reconnect. She is looking forward to the simple things that kids think about this time of year.

“Reading and stuff, making new friends and studying with people,” Lark said.

But since the risk of getting COVID-19 hasn’t gone away entirely, parents can help by coaching their kids before sending them to school.

“Because COVID still is within our communities, it is important that we remind children that if they do develop symptoms that are consistent with COVID they need tell their parents so they can get tested,” Eshenaur said.

Another thing to keep in mind is the flu. Health leaders say for the past few years since people were wearing masks, it slowed cases of the flu. But this year as masking becomes less common, it’ll be important to remember to get flu shots for your family and take standard precautions.

“Work with them at home about hygiene, tissues, covering your cough and your sneezes, all of those types of things that we should do anyway with regard to childhood illnesses,” Warden said.

For additional information from Kanawha County Schools regarding COVID-19 click here.

For additional resources from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) click here.