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Sandy Family Makes Back-To-School COVID-19 Precautions Top Priority

SANDY, Utah – As several Utah districts head back to school this week, it’s more important than ever for parents to help prepare their children for classes. One Sandy family is making safety part of its daily routine.

Even if they won’t admit it, 6-year-old Gwen and Owen Christiansen are lucky to be twins.

“I love having twins. They’re fun. It’s nice that they always have a friend, they always have a buddy, they have a co-conspirator,” their father, Theo Christiansen, said laughing.

Although they won’t admit it, 6-year-old Gwen and Owen Christiansen are lucky to be twins.

Their mother, Leslie Christiansen, said the pandemic has forced them to grow closer. “During all of this, they’ve become best friends,” she said.

Leslie believes they will become even closer as they head back to school and navigate new changes brought on by COVID-19. “I think that they’re going to lean on each other a lot,” she said.

This will be their first time going to school all day long. “Big step for them, going into first grade,” Theo said.

Gwen and Owen Christiansen posing on their first day of school in 2019. (Leslie and Theo Christiansen)

“I’m actually really excited,” Owen Christiansen said. “I’m a little bit nervous, but I think it will be fun.”

The Christiansens have been thoughtful in their decision to send their kids in person. Leslie has multiple sclerosis and a brand new baby. But she said for their family, the reward outweighs the risk.

“School is exciting,” Leslie said. “We want to promote that, but safely.”

Leslie Christiansen just gave birth to a new baby and also has multiple sclerosis, making it even more important for her family to stay safe from COVID-19.

“Even though we’re a little bit nervous about sending them back to school, we just feel like it’s something we can do safely as long as we follow the guidelines,” Theo added. “We also see that they need that socialization, it’s so important for them.”

Each day, Gwen and Owen pick out a clean mask and dispose of their dirty mask in a plastic bag to be washed. Leslie also stores the clean masks in a separate plastic bag to keep them sanitized.

After Gwen and Owen Christiansen have worn a mask to school, they will dispose of it in the “dirty” plastic bag to be washed.

“I’m a firm believer that masks work and that it’s the number one thing we can do,” she said.

To make mask-wearing easier for her daughter, Leslie puts Gwen’s hair up each day.

6-year-old Gwen Christiansen says it’s easier to put on her favorite mask when her mom puts her hair up out of her face.

“She tends to play with her hair and that leads her to touching her face without realizing it,” she explained.

She also sends her kids to school with hand sanitizer, extra masks in case they drop or lose their mask and reminds them to keep their belongings, including their jackets, in their own backpacks.

Leslie Christiansen is teaching her kids to keep their belongings in their own backpacks, including their jackets.

“It doesn’t have to be hard — it can be part of our routine,” Leslie said.

Jenny Johnson with the Utah Department of Health said it comes down to the basics.

“We wear masks when we’re unable to physical distance. We practice good hand hygiene. We stay home from work or school, or family activities when we’re sick,” she said. “Anything we do at home to lower the spread or to get our community numbers down is only going to help our schools.”

Johnson called it a team effort.

“What happens in the school is highly dependent on what happens in our communities and it’s really up to all of us to take those prevention measures that we know make a difference,” she explained.

“Our entire goal with this is to protect our community, [and] our teachers, especially,” Leslie said.

Because of Leslie’s auto-immune condition, she is also putting other precautions in place for their family. Upon returning from school she will have her kids take their shoes off, spray them with alcohol, and will also have her kids take a shower.

“If this becomes too hard for the kids or they feel stressed about it, we will adjust,” she said.

While Johnson encourages families to do whatever helps them feel most safe, she said the most important precaution families can take is to wear masks and social distance.

Johnson also urges parents to model good behavior and to evaluate the conversations they are having with their children.

“How am I actually talking about this to my kid? Is it positive or is it negative and scary to them?” she suggested.

“The biggest thing for us is communication and just making sure that they know that they have people to turn to if they ever feel uncomfortable about something,” Leslie said.

The bottom line — Johnson encourages parents to be supportive and confident in their child’s ability to have a successful year. “Kids are adaptable, and they’re resilient,” Johnson said.

The Christiansen twins know the precautions are worth it, especially as they start their new adventure.

“Because it keeps you safe of not having corona,” Owen said.

Theo is excited for his kids to enjoy the school year. “The number one rule is have fun. Just go and be a kid,” he said.

“I’m really excited for recess!” Owen said.

Johnson urged parents to download the COVID-19 School Manual created by the Utah Department of Health for more ideas on how to keep your family healthy.

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