Guidance for Practicing Primary Care

Preparing for back to school amid monkeypox outbreak and ever-changing COVID landscape


It’s back to school time, and some may be wondering what the current availability of vaccines may mean and the effects of the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines on their children’s education and day-to-day experiences as students this year.

Unlike last school year, there are now vaccines available for all over the age of 6 months, and home rapid antigen tests are more readily available. Additionally, many have now been exposed either by infection or vaccination to the virus.

The CDC has removed the recommendations for maintaining cohorts in the K-12 population. This changing landscape along with differing levels of personal risk make it challenging to counsel families about what to expect in terms of COVID this year.

Dr. Santina J. G. Wheat, associate professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago

Dr. Santina J.G. Wheat

The best defense that we currently have against COVID is the vaccine. Although it seems that many are susceptible to the virus despite the vaccine, those who have been vaccinated are less susceptible to serious disease, including young children.

As older children may be heading to college, it is important

to encourage them to isolate when they have symptoms, even when they test negative for COVID as we would all like to avoid being sick in general.

Additionally, they should pay attention to the COVID risk level in their area and wear masks, particularly when indoors, as the levels increase. College students should have a plan for where they can isolate when not feeling well. If anyone does test positive for COVID, they should follow the most recent quarantine guidelines, including wearing a well fitted mask when they do begin returning to activities.


We now have a new health concern for this school year.

Monkeypox has come onto the scene with information changing as rapidly as information previously did for COVID. With this virus, we must particularly counsel those heading away to college to be careful to limit their exposure to this disease.

Dormitories and other congregate settings are high-risk locations for the spread of monkeypox. Particularly, students headed to stay in dormitories should be counseled about avoiding:

  • sexual activity with those with lesions consistent with monkeypox;
  • sharing eating and drinking utensils; and
  • sleeping in the same bed as or sharing bedding or towels with anyone with a diagnosis of or lesions consistent with monkeypox.

Additionally, as with prevention of all infections, it is important to frequently wash hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer before eating, and avoid touching the face after using the restroom.

Guidance for those eligible for vaccines against monkeypox seems to be quickly changing as well.

At the time of this article, CDC guidance recommends the vaccine against monkeypox for:

  • those considered to be at high risk for it, including those identified by public health officials as a contact of someone with monkeypox;
  • those who are aware that a sexual partner had a diagnosis of monkeypox within the past 2 weeks;
  • those with multiple sex partners in the past 2 weeks in an area with known monkeypox; and
  • those whose jobs may expose them to monkeypox.

Currently, the CDC recommends the vaccine JYNNEOS, a two-dose vaccine that reaches maximum protection after fourteen days. Ultimately, guidance is likely to continue to quickly change for both COVID-19 and Monkeypox throughout the fall. It is possible that new vaccinations will become available, and families and physicians alike will have many questions.

Primary care offices should ensure that someone is keeping up to date with the latest guidance to share with the office so that physicians may share accurate information with their patients.

Families should be counseled that we anticipate information about monkeypox, particularly related to vaccinations, to continue to change, as it has during all stages of the COVID pandemic.

As always, patients should be reminded to continue regular routine vaccinations, including the annual influenza vaccine.

Dr. Wheat is a family physician at Erie Family Health Center and program director of Northwestern University’s McGaw Family Medicine residency program, both in Chicago. Dr. Wheat serves on the editorial advisory board of Family Practice News. You can contact her at

Next Article: