CDC rolls out tools for schools to reopen safely; see the checklist

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines Thursday for schools planning to reopen in the next few weeks amid rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in certain areas of the country.

The new guidelines, which urge students to wear masks and wash their hands frequently, also include a checklist of things parents can do before sending their children back to the classroom.

Parents should use a permanent marker to label their child’s face mask, the guidelines suggest, and have a labeled, resealable plastic bag to store the mask while the students are eating lunch or a snack. The CDC also suggests that parents conduct a few practice sessions on how to best put on and take off masks.

“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield in a release.

The guidelines include tips for disinfecting classrooms, and offer links to other resources in addition to providing a checklist for students and parents.

Some of the items on that checklist include:

· Make sure your child is up-to-date with all recommended vaccines, including for flu. All school-age children should get an influenza vaccine every season, with rare exceptions. This is especially important this year because we do not yet know if being sick with COVID-19 at the same time as the flu will result in a more severe illness.

· Be familiar with how your school will make water available during the day. Consider packing a water bottle.

· Talk with your child about how the school will look different (e.g., desks far apart from each other, teachers maintaining physical distance, the possibility of staying in the classroom for lunch).

For parents whose children are learning at home, the CDC also has some suggestions:

· Create a schedule with your child and make a commitment to stick with it. Structure and routine can greatly help your child from falling behind with assignments. Discuss your family’s schedule and identify the best times for learning and instruction, as well as family-oriented physical activity, such as walks outside. A family calendar or other visuals could be useful for keeping track of deadlines and assignments.

· Try to find a space where you live that’s free of distractions, noise, and clutter for learning and doing homework. This could be a quiet, well-lit place in your dining room or living room or a corner of your home that could fit a small table, if available.

· If you anticipate having technological barriers to learning from home, ask if your school or community can provide support or assistance for students without appropriate electronic devices for schoolwork (like a computer/laptop or tablet).

A section on worker safety offers tips such as disinfecting surfaces regularly, limiting the use of shared objects such as gym equipment and art supplies, and staying home yourself if you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with a COVID-19 infection or is suspected to test positive for the virus.

The guidance also provides research numbers that show children are less likely to become seriously ill from the virus: “As of July 21, 2020, 6.6% of reported COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of COVID-19-related deaths are among children and adolescents less than 18 years of age in the United States,” the new guidance says.

While scientists have said COVID-19 transmission rates are key to the decision to reopen schools, the CDC guidance does not include metrics that lay out the numbers of infections in a community that would keep a school from reopening or would trigger a closure of the school.

The CDC called on local jurisdictions to make sure a plan is in place to make the determination on schools opening and, if necessary, closing.

“With states, cities, and communities around the United States experiencing different levels of coronavirus transmission, jurisdictions should ensure appropriate public health strategies are in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 as the first step in creating a safer school environment,” the CDC statement said.

“Then, working in collaboration with their state and local health departments, school administrators can employ strategies that best match the local conditions and actions that are practical and feasible in their schools to help protect the health and safety of everyone -- including students, teachers, and other staff.”

School systems have been lobbying legislators for money to help with such things as supplies for enhanced sanitation measures and to prepare spaces that will allow for social distancing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that there will be more than $100 billion for school reopening needs included in the next stimulus bill being considered by the Senate now.

The promise of more money comes as President Donald Trump increases his call for schools to reopen in person come the fall.

“Teachers are essential workers,” Trump said Thursday. “But every district should be actively making preparations to reopen.”

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