Over the last few months, people have been accustomed to new social life since the beginning of this century’s worst pandemic. As we continue to work toward controlling the spread of COVID-19, communities will start going back to normal activities. With this increase in social interaction, there will be a higher risk of contracting infection. This includes an eventual reopening of schools.
There are several objectives to consider for preventing the transmission of infection in schools once they are reopened. 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.
According to the CDC, the risk of COVID-19 infection spread increases in school settings as follows:
- Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
- More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
- Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
Promoting Behaviors that Reduce Spread
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:
- Stay at Home - The most effective way to protect yourself against coronavirus is to limit your time spent around others. Self-isolation
- Social distancing
- Face Coverings/Face Mask - Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Individuals should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently.
- Cloth face coverings 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 cloth face covering without assistance
- Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms. Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators, or other medical personal protective equipment.
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 (e.g., school entrances, 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 cloth face covering).
- Broadcast regular announcements and communicating with staff and families such as on school websites, in emails, and on school social media accounts
Maintaining Healthy Environments
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Shared Objects
- 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
- Modified Layouts
- Maintaining social distance: Space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible.
- Physical Barriers and Guides
- Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., reception desks).
- Create distance between children on school buses (g., seat children one child per row, skip rows) when possible.
Maintaining Healthy Operations
- · Designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns
- Protection of Staff and Children who are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness from COVID-19
- Staff Training
- Recognize Signs and Symptoms
- Daily health checks (e.g., temperature screening and/or or symptom checking) of staff and students.
- Implementation of several strategies for when one gets sick.
For Ochsner Health updates and resources on COVID-19, visit Ochsner.org/Coronavirus.