Update from Director of Communicable Disease Dr. Molly O’Dell for July 8 Edition

Although we are in the midst of summer, one major area of uncertainty is what the school year will look like come fall. School systems are actively developing plans that address all aspects of COVID-19 to be prepared for the months to come. While working through logistics to provide education, there are many considerations to protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff.

Each of our school systems, whether private or public, serves a unique subset of the community and is working hard to muster its limited resources within the confines of their current facility footprints to meet the needs of the school district. They are working to create a climate of adherence to infection prevention everywhere from the ballfield to the bathrooms for young children and our adult teachers. CDC has outlined considerations for school systems to adopt should they decide to do in-person schooling. Below are some of the considerations:

Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette

  • Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Shared Objects

  • Keep each child’s belongings separated from others’ and individually labeled.
  • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high touch materials or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between use.

Modified Layouts

  • Space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible.
  • Turn desks to face in the same direction, or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.
  • Create distance between children on school buses.

Physical Barriers and Guides

  • Install physical barriers in areas where it is difficult to remain at least 6 feet apart.
  • Provide physical guides, such as tape and signs, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart.

Communal Spaces

  • Close communal use shared spaces if possible; otherwise, stagger use and clean and disinfect between use.
  • Add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks.

Staggered Scheduling

  • Limit contact between cohorts by staggering arrival and drop-off times or locations.

As you can see from the considerations above, this is no easy feat. There is a real challenge to weigh the public health risks and the child development needs. On one hand, many parents want their kids back in school for full days, five days a week. This will help our youth get back to normalcy, experience critical interaction with others, and receive education in the setting to which they are accustomed. On the other hand, no one wants the disease to spread. Attending in-person classes where you are interacting with others can increase the risk of spreading the virus throughout the school as well as trickling back into the home and infecting family members. 

Our school systems are working hard to follow current guidelines based on data and research as well as input from families, teachers, administrators, staff, and the community at large in order to develop plans to meet the needs of our community. I think many of us can agree that this pandemic is one that is new to us all, and we are all doing what we can to work through the challenges to ensure everyone’s best interest and safety. 

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