COVID-19 and Reopening Schools
As we enter a new school year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are several things to consider for preventing infection in schools. Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction is a priority. School systems should implement policies for a safe environment, which should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs of each community.
Promoting Behaviors that Reduce the Spread of COVID-19
The CDC offers the following considerations for ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19:
Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination for all adults and children age 12 and older can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
Stay at home when sick – Adults and children with any new symptoms related to COVID-19 should stay away from others and get tested. Even mild symptoms of headache, congestion or runny nose could be evidence of a new infection.
Face masks - Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Individuals should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently.
- Face masks should not be placed on:
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious
- Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the face mask without assistance
Social distancing - In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms. A distance of at least 6 feet is recommended between students and teachers/staff, and between teachers/staff who are not fully vaccinated.
- “Cohorting” means keeping people together in a small group and having each group stay together throughout an entire day. Cohorting can be used to limit the number of students, teachers and staff who come in contact with each other, especially when it is challenging to maintain physical distancing, such as among young children, and particularly in areas of moderate-to-high transmission levels. The use of cohorting can limit the spread of COVID-19 among cohorts but should not replace other prevention measures within each group.
Washing Hands and Respiratory Etiquette
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue
- Stay home when you are sick
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Signs and Messages
- Post signs in highly visible locations (such as school entrances and restrooms) that promote everyday protective measures and describe how to stop the spread of germs (such as by properly washing hands and properly wearing a face mask).
- Broadcast regular announcements and communicate with staff and families such as on school websites, in emails and on school social media accounts.
Maintaining Healthy Environments
- Discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect.
- Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. Bringing outdoor air into a building helps prevent virus particles from concentrating inside.
- Space seating/desks as far apart as possible
- Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for people to remain 6 feet apart (reception desks).
- Create distance between children on school buses. Seat children one child per row; skip rows when possible. Keep windows open or cracked a few inches to improve air circulation.
Maintaining Healthy Operations
- Designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns.
- Prioritize protection of staff and children who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19
- Train staff members
- Recognize signs and symptoms
- Make daily health checks (such as temperature screening and/or or symptom checking) of staff and students
- Implement strategies for when a student or teacher gets sick
It’s important to layer multiple prevention strategies together, especially as not all children are eligible for vaccination at this time. Screening, testing, improving ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are all important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
Vaccination for children
As of May 10, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12-15. Data specific to the 12- to 15-year-old group shows 100% efficacy, robust antibody responses and was well tolerated. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges youths and adults to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to them. This is especially important with a rise in cases caused by variant strains of the virus, which seem to be more contagious. Parents are encouraged to get their eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible.
Clinical trials are now starting in children as young as 6 months old, but a vaccine for children under the age of 12 has not yet been approved. Learn more here. Follow state and local government advisories for any updates in the community.
For Ochsner Health updates and resources on COVID-19, visit Ochsner.org/Coronavirus.