CDC Releases New Guidelines For Reopening Schools
The debate regarding whether or not to reopen schools is complicated: a majority of people will say that in-person learning is essential, but on the other hand, it is also incredibly important that everyone does what they can to limit the spread of COVID-19.
In mid-February, the CDC released new guidelines that seek to provide some insight into how to safely reopen schools. As communities and school districts decide whether or not to reopen, leaders need to decide when and under what conditions to reopen so that students, staff, teachers, and everyone in the community is safe. Along with known strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as testing and vaccinations, there is evidence that schools can open safely for in-person learning and remain open.
Some Key Points From the New Guidelines:
- Implementation of Mitigation Strategies is Essential
- Community Transmissions Reflects the Level of Risk
- Levels of Community Transmission Determines Phased Mitigation and Learning Modes
- Test Symptomatic Individuals to Limit the Spread
- Vaccinate Teachers and Staff as Supply Allows
The Guidelines Emphasize the Importance of Essential Mitigation Strategies For Long-Term Success When Reopening Schools
- Correct Use of Masks
- Physical Distancing
- Ventilation and Cleaning
- Contact Tracing
The correct usage of masks is an essential part of limiting the spread of COVID-19. All teachers, staff, and students over the age of two should wear masks in a school setting. Medical face masks are not necessary, but the mask should fit over the nose, mouth, and chin, and have as little gap as possible on the sides of the face. School administrators should choose masks that are breathable, made with tightly woven fabric, have two or three layers, and have an inner pocket where an additional filter can be added.
Schools should set up classrooms, meeting rooms, and lunchrooms to allow for social distancing (at least six feet apart). When schools are unable to safely physically distance, administrators can implement cohorting or podding strategies to reduce the number of people in the school at a given time. Schools can also establish policies so that students are released from a classroom at different times, reducing the number of students walking in hallways.
Hand-Washing and Respiratory Etiquette
Proper hygiene is another essential mitigation strategy that schools must follow in order to reopen safely. Everyone should strive to wash their hands before and after eating, after using the restroom, after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing, touching their face, or touching a high-risk surface such as door handles. Everyone should try to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds to effectively kill any germs. When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used. Hand sanitizer dispensers are an effective tool that can be placed in classrooms, lunchrooms, and at various locations throughout a school to ensure that everyone can safely sanitize their hands.
Ventilation and Building Cleaning
Improving ventilation in a school can be an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID by helping to increase circulation and dilute potential contaminants. When temperatures are too cold to open windows, placing a fan in a classroom can also help stir the air. HVAC systems should also be equipped with quality filters. Properly cleaning the building can ensure that high-risk surfaces are clean and sanitized such as door handles, desks, faucets, lunchroom tables, and chairs.
When someone comes down with symptoms or has a positive test result, acting quickly can help prevent the virus from spreading. Persons with symptoms or a positive test should immediately quarantine until symptoms subside or they get a negative result. Contact tracing can help determine when, where, and who that person has come into contact with others. Those who have come into that with the affected person should self-isolate in their home and closely monitor their health for potential COVID-19-related symptoms.
Levels of Community Transmission and Learning Modes
The CDC guidelines included a new color-coded chart with levels of community spread corresponding to recommended school learning modes.
- Blue: 0 to 9 new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days.
- Yellow: 10 to 49 per 100,000 new cases.
- Orange: 50 to 99 per 100,000 new cases.
- Red: More than 100 new cases per 100,000.
For blue and yellow zones, K-12 schools are able to reopen to full in-person learning with social distancing and mitigation strategies in effect. Face masks should be worn for sports and extracurricular activities.
For orange or red zones, the CDC recommends that elementary schools open in a hybrid mode. Middle and high schools should open in a hybrid mode or have reduced attendance, and sports and extracurricular activities should only be held outdoors.
For red zones, middle and high schools should continue with virtual only instruction unless the schools can strictly follow the mitigation strategies.
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