According to the CDC and White House guidelines, schools and universities may, in some cases, commence reopening this Fall as part of a phased approach to reopening the economy.
Across the country, school officials are weighing multiple considerations as they make plans regarding whether to reopen and how. For those who are making the decision or already planning to reopen, it is critical to keep up to date on the latest CDC guidelines and to monitor local and regional data, benchmarks, and rules.
Currently, the CDC offers guidance for four main areas of concern: Deciding to open, pre-opening building considerations, ongoing mitigation, and prevention and support. Here are the key points included in their current guidelines.
Schools are encouraged to use the CDC’s decision tool when considering whether to reopen. This tool guides users through a set of step by step questions and guidelines to aid in making this decision. Those guidelines include:
If the answer to any of these considerations is “no,” then schools are encouraged to continue online learning until they can answer “yes” to all of them.
If the answer is yes, then school leaders are encouraged to consider the following additional questions:
Next, officials are encouraged to consider whether they can implement ongoing monitoring including:
Schools that can clearly and emphatically address all of these issues are encouraged to put a plan into place for reopening.
Before schools reopen, administrators should consider the factors in building design, disinfecting, and maintenance that will impact the safety of their students. Factors that can reduce risk include:
For more information on meeting these guidelines, review the CDC’s page on the topic.
Every school situation is different. Leadership is encouraged to work with local and regional authorities to develop best practices and procedures for reopening consistent with a clear understanding of risks.
Lowest risk situations are virtual-only classes, activities and events.
Medium risk includes small, in-person classes, activities and events. The shorter the interaction and the fewer people involved, the lower the risk. In this category includes situations where groups of students remain together throughout the day and do not commingle with other groups; where they remain 6 feet apart and do not share objects, and where hand hygiene and masks are used.
Higher risk includes activities such as full-size classes, activities, and events. Lack of spacing, commingling of groups, and the absence of protective equipment and practices increases the risk substantially.
Schools should work to reduce risk as much as possible and mitigate it when high-risk situations are unavoidable. This includes increasing hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, providing plentiful hygiene stations and disinfecting shared areas such as bathrooms and cafeterias regularly. Reducing commingling, encouraging or requiring cloth face coverings, and increasing spacing. It also includes screening employees and students at the beginning of each school day and instituting processes for managing response to symptoms that develop during the school day.
Signs and messages should remind students and employees of proper practices.
The school environment and experience is varied and unique to each school. Administrators should use good judgment and coordination with officials and guidelines to ensure they address all aspects of their school environment and experience for optimized safety.
Some additional areas to consider include:
Many schools additionally have reconsidered their calendars to accommodate for COVID-19 considerations. By opening sooner and closing earlier in the year, many hope to take advantage of the potential that the virus will spread less easily in milder weather. Others have consolidated school time to fewer days to reduce exposure, while still others are implementing mixed online and in-person options.
Whatever your school system decides, it’s critical to do so in coordination with local, state, and regional officials and according to CDC best practices. We environmental professionals would love to work with you ensuring that your school environment is as safe as it can be.