Both experts and parents agree that physically attending school has many benefits and is an important part of a child’s growth and development. Therefore, despite the fact that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, many children are returning to school for in-person learning. In order to keep students safe, school administrators must be aware of all the necessary precautions to take and adjustments to make to their school. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that schools implement strategies across 4 key areas to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
Promoting behaviors that reduce spread
Maintaining healthy environments
Maintaining healthy operations
Preparing for when someone gets sick
Schools will determine in cooperation with state, tribal, territorial and local health officials whether and how to meet these needs based on the state of the local community. Despite receiving guidelines from health organizations such as the CDC, reopening a school during a global pandemic is no easy task. Here are some of the most important precautions that schools should be taking as they welcome students back for in-person learning.
Implement Physical Distancing
One of the most effective ways to keep students and teachers safe is to implement physical distancing throughout the entire school. In classrooms, place desks 6 feet apart to help prevent the spread of illness, per the CDC’s social distancing recommendations. Require children to remain in their desk area throughout class so that they stay physically distanced from other students. When possible, schools should hold classes in outdoor spaces where there is more ventilation, or in unused indoor spaces such as a gym or auditorium. These options will make it easier for students and staff to maintain an appropriate distance from one another. Remind students that, while they may be excited to see their friends, it is important to their health that they remain physically distanced from others. Teachers and staff should stay 6 feet away from other adults and from students whenever possible. Schools should also limit in-person faculty and staff meetings, and should close staff lounges or other areas where people tend to gather in groups.
Make Classroom Changes
As mentioned above, desks should be placed 6 feet away from each other, and staff should try their best to limit student interaction. A safety strategy recommended by the CDC to enforce this is cohorting: students remaining with the same teacher and group of students throughout the day to limit exposure. Cohorting applies mostly to younger students, and your schools' proper approach to cohorting will depend on the needs of your school/district and community. Additionally, have students eat lunch at their desk instead of a cafeteria in order to further contain students to a single area of the school and to the same group of students. Throughout the day, leave classroom and, if possible, bathroom doors propped open to avoid the frequent touching of these surfaces.
Enforce Face Coverings
Having all students, faculty, and staff wear a mask is imperative to maintaining a healthy school, as both the CDC and the World Health Organization have specifically stressed the importance of wearing a face covering to slow the spread of COVID-19. All adults and children over the age of two should wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth throughout the entire school day. The only people over the age of 2 that should be exempt from wearing a mask is anyone with respiratory issues where it would impede their breathing, anyone unable to remove the mask without help, and anyone with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that does not allow them to wear a mask. Have parents label their child's mask to ensure that students do not mix their masks up with other students' masks. It is important to note, however, that different types of masks provide different levels of protection, and certain masks should be reserved only for medical professionals or those in immediate proximity to someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Be sure that the students, faculty, and staff at your school wear the correct type of mask for their situation.
Enforce Appropriate Hygiene
The CDC recommends washing your hands often, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and monitoring student, faculty, and staff health daily. Some ways to monitor health include temperature taking before entering the building, having everyone self-monitor for symptoms, contact tracing, and periodic COVID-19 tests for student, faculty and staff. Enforce frequent hand washing with soap and water for all students and teachers, and remind students, especially younger ones, of the proper way to cover a sneeze or cough. Create cleaning and disinfecting protocols to be practiced throughout the day, for example, wiping down desks between classes.
Require Each Child to Have a “COVID-19 KIT”
items essential to a COVID-19 School Kit include several masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, tissues, dry erase markers, and a reusable water bottle. These items protect students from contracting or spreading germs, allow them to have their own cleaning and sanitizing supplies at hand, and help to reduce the number of frequently touched surfaces at school. Sending your child to school with a COVID-19 School kit is one of the best ways to protect them from the potential risks of in-person learning, and Medivico has got you covered. We offer COVID-19 School Kits containing everything your child will need to stay safe while optimizing their school experience. Fill out the contact form on our website to learn more about our COVID-19 School Kits.
Adapt, Limit or Cancel Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Activities
The above recommendations continue to apply even when the school day ends. If possible, extracurricular and co-curricular activities should adapt so that safety guidelines such as physical distancing, wearing masks, and frequent hygiene are present at all times. If participation in an extracurricular or co-curricular activity cannot be adapted, for example sports in which social distancing is not feasible, the activity should be cancelled. Even if an activity can be adapted to meet COVID-19 protocols, consider the necessity level of the activity, or if the activity can be held virtually instead.
Create a Plan for Children or Adults with Symptoms
Having a pre-developed plan in place for if a student, faculty or staff member begins experiencing COVID-19 symptoms while at school will enable a calm, cool, collected, and safe handling of the situation. The CDC recommends that as soon as someone is experiencing symptoms, they should be excused from the classroom and sent directly to a designated isolation area. Next, if the ill person is a student, the parent, guardian or caregiver of the student should be notified and should pick up the student from school. The student should then consult with their healthcare provider for evaluation and to determine if a COVID-19 test is recommended. If the ill person tests negative for COVID-19, they may return to school following pre-existing school illness management policies.
Know What to do If a Student, Staff or Faculty Member is Diagnosed with COVID-19
If a student, staff or faculty member of your school is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is imperative to take the correct steps in order to contain the spread. The CDC recommends that as soon as the person tests positive, gather a list of close contacts of the ill person and communicate possible exposure to them. Also gather a list of exposed areas, close them off for 24 hours, and have the appropriate staff clean and disinfect these areas. School administrators should work with local health officials to assess transmission levels and support contact tracing efforts. Close contacts should self-quarantine for 14 days and should consult with their healthcare provider for evaluation and to determine if testing for COVID-19 is recommended. Members of the ill person’s household should also self-quarantine for 14 days. The ill person may return to school after meeting the criteria for ending home isolation.
While the above suggestions are effective ways to help keep students, faculty and staff safe when returning to in-person learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize that following these guidelines does not guarantee the protection of your school from COVID-19, and that there are risks involved with bringing students, faculty and staff back to school. Rather, these are practices that will help support your schools safe reopening, and will help your school remain open. Along with enforcing these safety protocols at school, always remind your students to wear a mask when in public areas and when unable to remain 6 feet from people outside of their household. Also remind your student’s families and your school’s faculty and staff to keep their home clean and disinfected to help ensure the health and safety of your school’s community.
Photo Credits: "What to do if a student becomes sick at school or reports a new COVID-19 Diagnosis"flow chart: CDC