How to Safely Reopen Schools

As our country continues down the path of reopening in the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, one of the key issues that has come up recently is how to safely reopen our schools for the Fall 2020 semester.

As more research has become available through the course of the pandemic, it has become clear that poorly ventilated indoor locations are one of the primary drivers of SARS-CoV-2 spread. This is especially true if face masks and social distancing of at least 6 feet is not enforced.

Schools must focus on several key interventions if they are to prevent potential clusters of infections amongst their student population as well as staff. These interventions are as follows: remote learning, sanitation, ventilation, personal protective equipment, screening, outdoor activities, and social distancing.

  • Remote Learning:

Schools should consider remote learning to be the safest method of education delivery. Even when schools reopen for onsite teaching, remote learning can still play a role. For example, those classrooms where the educator is in a high risk group, whether due to personal health issues or due to age (e.g., >65), schools should consider having the educator deliver instruction from a remote location onsite via electronic means. Children with existing health issues (e.g., asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or otherwise immune compromised) could be placed into separate remote learning classes where they do not need to come to school.

  • Screening:

Institute temperature checks at school entrances for staff and students, either using a non-contact FDA approved medical IR thermometer, or using automated temperature screening tools that would only require the temperature checker to observe readouts on a computer screen. Students and staff found with a temperature of 100.4 F or higher must be sent home for quarantine. Consider creating an isolation area or room where students can be placed if they have to be picked up by a relative at a later time. A communication should be sent to parents that makes it clear that if a student is exhibiting CDC listed symptoms, they should not come to school.

  • Ventilation:

Wherever possible, the building ventilation system should be turned to 100% outside air. The HVAC filtration media should be upgraded to MERV 14 or above. If this is not possible, classroom windows should be opened to increase outdoor air and portable HEPA units can also be considered. Some schools have windows that cannot open or have no windows in some classrooms; special tailored solutions need to be made in such instances.

  • Sanitation:

Frequently touched areas should have sanitation frequencies increased with EPA approved sanitation products. These include, but are not limited to, student desks, door knobs, bathrooms, cafeteria tables, and school buses.

  • Personal Protective Equipment:

Face masks should be enforced on entry to school grounds, with the only exception for when students and staff are eating and/or drinking. For temperature screeners or school healthcare staff who must come into close contact with other individuals, consider providing N95 respirators, face shields, and disposable gloves.

  • Social Distancing:

To the extent possible, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from each other while on school grounds (even while outdoors). This may require difficult to implement solutions such as decreasing classroom sizes, decreasing the amount of indoor cafeteria seating, and implementing staggered start times for students and staff.

  • Outdoor activities:

Outdoor teaching activities should be encouraged whenever possible, as it is much easier to maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more in an outdoor setting; it is also less likely for SARS-CoV-2 to be transmitted in an outdoor setting if social distancing is enforced.

For school buses, the amount of children that can ride together may need to be reduced; school bus windows may need to be kept open to increase outside air, and plastic shielding may need to be installed to isolate the bus driver from the students. School administrators should make it clear to both parents and the bus drivers that face masks are enforced for entry into a school bus. Also, as mentioned above in the sanitation section, school buses may need sanitation daily with EPA approved sanitation products.

The above are not the only solutions available to combat the potential spread of SARS-CoV-2 in a school setting. Since each school is different, a unique tailored set of solutions may be needed. This is especially true for public schools with limited funding, where many of the above recommendations cannot be readily or easily implemented. Please contact us for a consultation, and we can work with your school's unique circumstances to create a tailored solution to reduce the potential for SARS-CoV-2 spread on school grounds.