Children’s Hospital Releases Guidelines for Safely Reopening Schools

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Photo by Amber Wright

The Children's Hospital in Colorado Springs.

By Amber Wright, Co-Editor-in-Chief

An important question is being asked in households across Colorado: How will schools safely reopen during the fall semester?

The Children’s Hospital in Colorado Springs has released a new guide that is designed to help school administrators and board members decide how they can safely reopen schools in the fall.

The guidelines are, fortunately, designed specifically with limited school resources in mind. In the face of a shortage of school funding, working to mitigate the risks of in-person learning by using practices that can be altered to meet the needs of each school district is important. The plan focuses on three tiers that can support in-person learning on a large scale if these practices are used consistently.

Tier one of the guideline includes practices which are considered the most effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. It includes promoting hand hygiene, social distancing, face covering, and keeping up to date on vaccinations such as for influenza. Consistently washing or sanitizing hands is a simple and effective way to prevent the spread of disease.

In a school setting, it is obviously difficult to maintain the CDC’s guideline of staying six feet apart at all times, so the Children’s guide elaborates on the fact that any sort of distancing is better than none. Ideally, students stay five feet apart, but if that is not possible, four feet apart is better than three. Children’s recommends utilizing large spaces in the school as well as the outdoors to allow for distancing.

In regards to wearing masks, communities have unfortunately shown mixed reactions. It is clear, based on numerous studies, that wearing a facial mask mitigates the spread of disease; however, some feel that being forced to wear a mask infringes upon their rights and that it is too uncomfortable to wear a mask for long periods of time. If schools were to reopen, wearing masks would be a necessity in order to achieve a high level of transmission reduction.

In a news conference on July 10, Colorado Governor Polis said, “This is not about politics or ideology, it is about science and health. Wearing a mask is the smartest and the best thing you can do along with staying six feet apart from others.” Governor Polis went on to say later in the conference: “If I haven’t been clear, I am telling you wear a mask. Wear a damn mask.”

Tier two of the plan involves screening students and staff for symptoms, exclusion of symptomatic people, pod-style learning, and touch-free surfaces. A simple way to reduce students’ contact with commonly used surfaces is to keep doors propped open so that students do not need to touch the door handle.

Constantly monitoring the symptoms of those in the building and quickly isolating those showing symptoms of illness is crucial to maintaining a safe environment. Screening could be in the form of online surveys or taking the temperature of students and staff. Parents will still be strongly encouraged to keep their sick children home until they are free of symptoms, which is three days after their symptoms cease.

In pod-style learning, groups of twenty to thirty students would only interact with each other. That way, if a student becomes infected with COVID-19, their pod would stay isolated until it is clear no one else has the disease, rather than all students interacting with and infecting each other. However, this may present more challenges in high schools than in elementary schools where most subjects are often taught in one classroom to one set of students.

Governor Polis elaborated on the topic of returning to school in his recent news conference. “I expect that most schools will be back in a more or less normal fashion in the fall, but doesn’t mean every school, every day, all the time.” Governor Polis went on to say that if and when an outbreak occurs at a school “those students will likely need to convert to the online format for a week or two until the incubation period has expired and people can be tested and released to go back to work and the outbreak is contained.”

“We have developed this outbreak model. It’s not perfect, it is better than it was two months ago and will be better, even better than it is now when schools start in the fall,” said Governor Polis.

Lastly, tier three practices include more cleaning, contact tracing to track a positive COVID-19 case, airflow/ventilation, and communication. Schools are encouraged to frequently and thoroughly clean high-traffic areas and shared/common spaces. In regards to airflow and ventilation, allowing outdoor air to circulate throughout the building can dilute potentially infected air particles. Teachers are encouraged to open windows or hold class outside when possible.

The Children’s Hospital guidelines also elaborate on the significance of communication. School districts need to keep staff members, students, and parents fully informed on what is expected of them to ensure the reopening of schools is as safe as possible.

No matter what the school year looks like — whether it is fully online, a hybrid model of e-learning and in-person learning, or fully in-person — we as a community must work together to stay safe. Be sure to follow all guidelines as they are laid out by the state, school district, and health organizations.