Back to School Woes: Are Lice Infestations Likely?

Going back to school after summer break has always been bittersweet. For kids, it means the end of a summer vacation they had spent frolicking. No more spending the day at the pool, planning an exciting new activity each week, or staying up late watching television. Once the summer break ends, it’s back to classes starting at 8 am, homework in the evenings, and other school-related activities that keep them busy the rest of the year.  On the bright side, returning to school means seeing their old friends again and participating in all the cool extracurricular events and activities lined up for the year. For parents, the end of summer break is usually a time to rejoice, especially for stay-at-home moms and dads. After two months of trying to keep their kids busy in healthy activities and running out of ideas to cater to their child’s energy levels, they can finally relax as school reopens and routine returns. Of course, going back to school also means that the risk of head lice outbreaks will be back again. School-going children are especially prone to these parasite infestations, and the start of a school year is typically a period of high alert for head lice. This year, however, things are a little different than what they used to be. After months of school buildings remaining closed and online classes replacing in-person classes, educational institutes are starting to open again. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “back-to-school” is a different concept altogether, met with a new set of concerns on top of the usual ones such as potential lice infestations.

Head Lice: An Ongoing Crisis

It’s a tale as old as time. Every year, just as the new school year is about to commence, parents, teachers, and of course, children, find themselves fighting yet another battle with the bloodsucking parasites. Young children are especially likely to become victims of head lice, which results in stressed out caregivers who take out the armor (read: lice removal remedies and products) to ward off this threat. Keeping a child’s head free of lice, especially when they’ll be socializing with dozens of children in school is a challenging task, and one that needs to be tended to with maximum attention and care. With the abundance of research and medical articles, we know that head lice do not carry diseases with them. Unlike parasites such as mosquitoes that are carriers of dangerous illnesses, head lice are perfectly disease-free. Of course, that doesn’t make them much better than other parasites. They’re pesky creatures that cause a lot of nuisance, not just for the affected but also those around them. Head lice are rarely an isolated concern. If a child has head lice, their school mates, family members, and anyone else they interact with is automatically at risk. Ask any teacher at an elementary school, and they’ll tell you exactly how fast one case of head lice can lead to a school-wide outbreak. Ask a parent who’s dealt with their child coming home with head lice, and you’ll know how overwhelming it can get to look for nits and deep clean the house to prevent the lice from finding other victims. And let’s not forget about the stigma still attached to head lice. Even though head lice aren’t dangerous like they are irritating, and don’t carry an infection, a lice infestation is still treated as something to be embarrassed about. This is why many children (and even parents) delay getting professional treatment because they’d rather not have anyone know about the crawling problem at hand.

How Does Lice Transmission Occur at Schools?

Here’s the thing about head lice: they’re not your average pests. Unlike many other parasites, they don’t fly, or swim, or even jump from one place to another. Instead, they crawl their way from strands of hair to the scalp. Thus, lice transmission occurs via head-to-head contact. When children are in close contact with their classmates, lice may crawl from one head to another and make a home on a new scalp. Direct head-to-head contact can occur during the simplest of activities. Every time children are crowded at a table around a tablet, sitting in a circle during class, or huddled together at the playground, the chances of head lice transmission are high. In addition to this, sharing headgear can also result in children getting head lice. The parasites may stick to hats, hair accessories, bandanas, helmets, and pillows of the child they’re nesting on. If these items are shared among children at school, there’s a high possibility of head lice crawling from these items onto another child’s head.

Head Lice & the Coronavirus

You’d think that with the schools shut for months because of the pandemic, the risk of lice infestations would be significantly low now that institutes are opening up again. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what has happened. It’s true that when all non-essential businesses and schools closed down back in March due to the lockdown, the last thing anyone would’ve expected to encounter was head lice. However, the pandemic has brought forward all kinds of unexpected circumstances and concerns, among which is the threat of a massive lice outbreak. Even a global pandemic didn’t keep the lice away! Because the lockdown meant living in close quarters and having limited access to lice screening services, more cases of head lice occurred throughout the U.S. In fact, several cases of super lice were reported back in July. Reports indicated that there had been an increase in head lice cases by 25% since April 2020, during the pandemic. The lockdown and close sheltering situation meant that entire families were impacted by these creatures. Thus, even though schools were closed, children were still at risk of head lice while at home. In the pre-COVID-19 world, schools would still schedule lice screenings at their premises to detect any signs of nits or lice. During the last six months, however, this hasn’t been possible. This means that schools haven’t been able to inform parents of potential head lice signs in the classroom, and that parents have been on their own. With everything else the coronavirus has resulted in, it’s highly likely (and understandable) that signs of head lice at home went unnoticed until the problem had already escalated. Parents were likely not just unaware of their child having nits, but also didn’t have access to the necessary treatment options which may have contributed to the increased lice outbreaks during the pandemic.

How Has Merrick Prepared to Welcome Students Back to School?

In July, the Bellmore-Merrick School District officials announced plans for reopening schools in September for the 2020-21 session. A school reopening committee was formed and a hybrid model was presented for this course of action. According to the tentative plans, students were to alternate between online classes and in-person classes. Of course, conducting in-person classes is no longer the same as it was in January this year. SOPs were designed to conduct safe classroom sessions, emphasizing the need for masks, sanitizers, and social distancing requirements. In September, schools falling under the Merrick Union Free School District officially reopened after reassuring parents, teachers, and students that SOPs will be implemented. A sense of normalcy returned in the abandoned hallways and playgrounds as students reconnected with old friends after an unbelievably long “summer break”. Schools across New York counties share similar protocols. In the District of Greenport, for instance, elementary level students are to follow an in-person model. Courses such as that of art, music, and physical education will be held in classrooms to prevent the chances of transmission. Secondary students, on the other hand, are supposed to follow a hybrid model. They’ll be divided into groups and will have alternate in-person school days and remote learning days. All across the state of New York, schools have set stringent guidelines for safe reopening. For starters, students are required to wear masks during school hours and maintain distance from their fellow classmates. Parents have been advised to stay alert about their child’s health and keep an eye out for COVID-19 symptoms. Safety protocols also include regular COVID-19 screenings, contact tracing in case of students who may get infected, and thorough cleaning of the school premises to prevent the chances of the disease spreading. If the rate of infection goes beyond 9% or if there are new lockdown rules imposed for a particular region due to potential risks, the schools will shut down promptly.

What Does “Back to School” Mean For Lice Outbreaks?

While schools across Merrick are following the relevant protocols for dealing with the coronavirus, there’s another public health problem that needs to be addressed as schools reopen: head lice. Changes in school policies during the time of social distancing mean that most (if not all) schools cannot allow teachers to check for nits and head lice. From a COVID perspective, this is a safe practice. From a head lice perspective, it may just as well be a recipe for a disaster. This is because not all families are able to check for head lice properly. They may not be as aware of the head lice crisis and its consequences, or may lack the resources to inspect for head lice. Once school reopens, not only would they be risking their child to a potential lice outbreak at school, but may also be putting hundreds of other students at risk if their own child has head lice. The COVID-19 protocols mean that maximum social distancing will be practiced at schools, limiting head-to-head contact. However, it’s too soon to say if that would work in or against the favor of head lice in the long run. Currently, children are still at risk of head lice infestations at their respective schools.

An Epidemic within a Pandemic?

It’s strange to think that after so many years, head lice remains to be a pressing concern. Professional lice removal treatments are very effective in killing nits and lice, but the parasites return every year, especially at the start of the school year. It’s almost as if we have a lice epidemic to deal with each year. Truth be told, there aren’t any permanent fixes to getting rid of head lice. Lice infestations don’t occur because of dirty or unhygienic conditions, as many people still believe to be the case, and no amount of home remedies will eradicate them. The only way to deal with head lice is to be wary of signs and symptoms, do frequent head inspections, and avail professional treatment at the earliest signs of head lice. This is an annoying back-to-school concern, but one that can be dealt with effectively with the right methods.

Use Our Exclusive Back to School Offers

At Lice Troopers, we’re offering exclusive 10% discounts on our lice treatment services in Merrick, NY. With our Whole Family Lice Treatment deal, you can ensure that your child is nit-free upon their return to school. We’re also offering Whole Family Visual Screenings for free to further help eliminate the risk of a lice outbreak this school year. Our team aims to be as inclusive as possible. This is why we offer lice removal services not just at our lice salon, but also schedule home visits (under social distancing guidelines, of course). Not only that, but we also have lice treatment kits available, comprising some of our favorite pesticide free products. You can also shop online for our lice prevention and lice extraction products to minimize the risk of your child getting head lice as school commences. Our lice specialists will go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction with our services, and are here to help ease your back to school woes. Call us at (516) 537-9549 to learn more about what we have to offer. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed! Our professional lice treatment services are available throughout Merrick, NY.