The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a detailed list of guidelines on how schools can reopen safely this coming fall.
While not compulsory, the guidelines provide best practices and concrete steps for the reopening process. The document provides three phase-specific thresholds for reopening. Schools are said to be safe to reopen in Phase 2, which will take effect provided that:
- There is a downward trajectory for the following for at least 14 days after entering Phase 1:
- Newly identified COVID-19 cases
- Reports of COVID-like illnesses, and influenza-like illnesses
- Positive SARS-CoV-2 tests as a percentage of total tests
- Inpatient and ICU beds within the state are less than 75% full
- There is no staff shortage in the last week
- PPE supplies are adequate for more than four days
- Tests are readily available in such that the percentage of positive tests is equal to 15 percent or less, for 14 days
- Test results can be released in three days or less
However, until a vaccine or effective treatment becomes available, the CDC still recommends educational institutions to implement strategies to encourage behaviors that will reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Staff and students’ families must be educated on when they can go to school, and when they should be staying home. Policies must be adapted to encourage employees or students who are sick or who have been recently exposed to a COVID-19 case to stay at home without fear of reprisal.
Guidelines on proper handwashing practices must be taught and reinforced among staff and students. If soap and water are not immediately available, then staff and students must use hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol.
Prior to opening, schools must ensure that all water systems and features are safe to use, in order to avoid Legionnaire’s disease. Ventilation systems must also be properly working, and if feasible, the circulation of outdoor air must be increased, unless it poses a health or safety risk.
Schools must educate students on the proper use of cloth face coverings, and reinforce its use among staff and older students, especially when physical distancing cannot be avoided. The guidelines advised against placing cloth face coverings on children younger than two years old, those who are unconscious or have trouble breathing, and those who are incapacitated or unable to remove the covering without assistance.
Educational institutions will also be responsible for providing supplies that support healthy hygiene behaviors, including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels and tissues, disinfectant wipes, and no-touch trash cans. Cloth face coverings must also be provided, if feasible.
Within the classroom, desks must be situated at least six feet apart, and must all be facing the same direction. If this is not feasible, the CDC recommends that barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions be installed.
In the hallways and common areas, tapes and markers on the floors and walls must be provided to ensure that staff and students remain at least six feet apart.
For food service, children must bring their own meals. If this is not feasible, individually plated meals must be served in the classroom. The use of disposable utensils and plates is also encouraged, but if this is not ideal, schools must ensure that all non-disposable food items are handled with gloves, and must be washed thoroughly with dish soap and hot water in a dishwasher.
Communal spaces such as playgrounds and dining halls must be closed, if possible; otherwise they must be regularly disinfected and used minimally. In bathrooms, physical barriers such as plastic screens must be placed between sinks, especially if they cannot be six feet apart.
In school buses, only one child should be occupying each row, and if possible, rows must be skipped. Drivers and passengers must wear face coverings, and vehicles should be cleaned daily.