In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 brought unique challenges to many households, specifically elementary-aged children moving to a distance-learning based platform mandated to control the spread of the virus. However, as the pandemic spread is mitigated and schools reopen to in-person learning, it will become vitally important for students to fully understand preventative measures to continue to diminish the spread of COVID-19 and any other virus they may come into contact with. Implementing a distance learning intervention into elementary and secondary education may limit the spread of current and future pandemics and/or outbreaks by improving health literacy.


Context: The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated distance learning to attenuate the spread of the virus, and school-aged children were particularly affected by this change. Because of their age and education level, children generally lacked understanding about the pandemic and the preventive measures necessary to prevent the spread of this and other infectious diseases. It is unknown how many schools nationwide incorporated disease-prevention education in their curriculums during the pandemic. Therefore, developing distance learning interventions that convey these topics at their level of understanding is important to improve health literacy and raise their awareness of factors that positively influence health.

Objective: To implement a distance learning intervention that teaches elementary-aged children about infectious diseases and pandemics and to evaluate their understanding of the material.

Methods: A four-week program with weekly lessons was developed to teach fifth grade students about infectious diseases and pandemics. Weekly lessons involved one or two instructional videos, preintervention and postintervention quiz, live online interactive session. Participants also completed a survey before (Presurvey) and after (Postsurvey) the entire 4-week program to evaluate their understanding of the material.

Results: 61 fifth graders (ages 10-11) participated in the project. Quiz scores improved from preintervention to postintervention for week 1 (74% [3.0] vs 86% [2.2], PP=.34), and week 3 (78% vs 83%, P=.20). Scores were the same in week 4 (95%,P=.86). Survey responses before and after the program also improved, particularly for questions related to understanding what it means to be in a pandemic (33% [18/54] vs 55% [24/44], P=.008) and that SARS-CoV-2 is a virus and causes COVID-19 (4% [2/54] vs 27% [12/44], P

Conclusion: Project results suggested that our distance learning intervention improved fifth grade students’ knowledge about infectious diseases and pandemics. Although it was difficult to maintain the same response rate for weekly quizzes or to fully engage participants during the virtual lessons, the live interactive sessions were well received and seemed to improve their understanding of these topics. Because our project intervention seemed to provide participants with greater health literacy, similar interventions should be considered for other grade levels at elementary schools across the country to promote awareness about infectious diseases or other global health issues.