A: Schools re-opening for in-person learning remains a big priority.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance for K-12 schools on reopening for in-person learning. The guidance focuses on what can be done within a school to make in-person learning as safe as possible as well as what needs to be considered in the broader community.
Within the school building, the CDC guidance focuses on five key strategies to make in-person school as safe as possible:
🟢 Universal and correct use of masks for all students and staff. This means the mask should be worn tightly, consistently, and covering both the nose and mouth.
🟢 Physical distancing–meaning classrooms are spread out limiting people being in close proximity to each other. (Check back later today for a rundown on the latest evidence for 3 feet vs. 6 feet physical distancing.)
🟢 Handwashing and covering your coughs and sneezes
🟢 Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, possibly also by increasing ventilation or keeping windows open wherever possible
🟢 Contact tracing when a case has been identified in combination with isolation and quarantine of possible cases, in collaboration with the health department
The top two priorities are mask wearing and physical distancing. CDC says that schools should be requiring mask wearing and enforcing it. Kids in classrooms and other spaces must be spread out.
The idea of the multiple strategies is to do them in combination: require masks, and spread out the classrooms, and set up hand sanitizer stations, encourage handwashing, and deep clean the facilities. So, if one strategy is not effective enough on its own, in combination with the others, there is a safer environment.
At the community level, there are two additional considerations. First, there needs to be a clear picture of what is going on with community transmission of the virus. This is the sort of data that is being collected now by the local or state health department and CDC to help identify the level of community risk for getting the virus. These data points paint a picture of what is happening in the community where the school operates. In most areas, these data points are now being well tracked. In addition to having a handle on community transmission, school systems are expected to have a plan in place in the event that the level of community risk changes.
It is sometimes hard to separate out transmission of COVID-19 in school and in the community. If more people in a community have COVID-19, there is a bigger chance that someone with the virus will come to school with the virus and potentially spread it. So, control of COVID-19 in the community is an important factor in safer in-person school.
The latest guidance makes different recommendations depending on the level of community risk. However, the guidance also leaves it up to school administrators and local public health officials to decide if schools should stay open even if community transmission appears to have gone up.
There are two more things the CDC guidance mentions that can help make schools as safe as possible. Regular testing either within schools or for people who go to school can help to prevent school-based transmission. This is because regular testing can identify a case before that case turns into a cluster of cases which has the potential to shut the school down. Finally, CDC mentions prioritizing vaccination for teachers and school-based personnel.