The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world for the foreseeable future. For many schools and colleges, the new academic year has begun and, online classes and virtual learning sessions are in full swing.
For those locations where the curve of COVID-19 cases is slowly flattening, reopening schools is at the forefront. At the same time, the opening of school has the risk of viral resurgence and is a matter of much public debate.
Therefore no one can say for sure when schools will be open again. The only thing one can be particular about is that schools need to be prepared to reopen safely when the time comes and when the government regulations relax.
Given this current pandemic situation, how can schools reopen keeping the safety of the students and teachers in mind?
1. Ensuring Social Distancing in the Classrooms
The World Health Organisation ( WHO) recommends social distancing to prevent the natural spread of the virus. While this is difficult to maintain in a school set up, they can do the following to ensure students and staff manage to keep a safe distance from each other.
- Social distancing floor stickers are a great way of helping students adhere to the 6 feet rule.
Best Practices – In Taiwan, students as young as kindergarten wear masks supplied by the government, and desks are separated from one another using dividers.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends spacing the school desks so that the distance norms are maintained, and all the students face the same direction.
Best Practices – In Singapore, students are assigned seats in rows as if they are taking examinations, and they are not permitted to move around.
- In many schools, the class sizes have also been considered as students were broken up into smaller groups with alternate day classes.
Best Practice – In Denmark the class size is limited to 15 students per class in primary school and 20 students in middle school.
- Avoiding school assemblies and large gatherings in a small space, including libraries, labs, etc. These can be conducted with small batches of students.
- Staggering the opening and closing hours of school instead of the school at the same time will avoid an influx of parents and students at the gates.
2. Teaching and Promoting Healthy Hygiene Practices
Another critical recommendation by doctors and scientists in regular handwashing, sanitizing and disinfecting to avoid the spread of the virus in public places
- Regularly teach the students the correct way to wash their hands and dispose of tissues, paper towels, etc.
Best Practices – In South Korea, students participate in online classes related to personal hygiene and health and safety measures the week before they return to school.
- Keep reminders for the students to wash their hands at regular intervals and have an adequate supply of soaps and hand sanitizers, paper towels, tissues, and no-touch trash cans for the students and the staff.
Best Practices – In Norway, students wipe their desks every two hours.
- Encourage the use of face masks and face shields for kids older than three years.
Best Practices – In Austria, students and teachers must wear face masks and wash their hands as they enter the building.
- Regular disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces within the school such as desks, doorknobs, playground equipment.
Best Practices – In Singapore, schools follow a staggered timing for recess for different groups.
- Temperature checks for anyone entering a school campus may be a sensible option, but this is not always foolproof. This is especially so for those who would have taken a prior medication or for asymptomatic patients.
Best Practice – In Denmark, children who come to school with symptoms are sent home immediately for 48 hours. Additionally, students who live with a COVID-19 positive family member are not allowed to come to school.
3. Ventilation Systems
Poor ventilation in confined indoor spaces is associated with increased transmission of respiratory infections. While the role of ventilation in preventing COVID-19 transmission is not well-defined, schools can follow guidelines for the safety of their students.
- Increase the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors.
Best Practices – In Norway, windows and doors in classrooms are left open as much as possible to maintain ventilation.
4. Transport and Cafeteria Facilities
The school bus and the school cafeteria are typically locales in the school that witness a high influx of footfalls. These are also places where the students and the staff sit close to each other. Therefore, schools need to pay special attention to the cleaning and disinfection of these facilities.
Best Practices – In South Korea, schools recommend wiping or spraying chlorine dioxide concentrations of 500 mg/L on furniture, door frames, doorknobs, sinks, and floors.
- Additionally, it is also recommended that students are encouraged to use their personal transport as far as possible, and school systems can also consider offering incentives for private transportation.
Best Practices – In China, School buses are encouraged to work at half capacity.
- In the cafeteria, students can be offered staggered lunchtimes with full compliance with physical distancing and hygiene may not be attainable.
- Students can also be encouraged to eat in their classrooms using their home-made lunch boxes.
Best Practice – In Norway, library books can be used after students wash their hands.
5. Protect Vulnerable Students And Staff
The Coronavirus poses a threat to all those with comorbidities, are older, or struggle with respiratory diseases.
- Therefore schools need to allow students and staff who are high-risk to continue teaching or learning from home.
6. Hire A Designated Person And A School Nurse
- Experts recommend that every school have at least one registered contact person to update the parents on various initiatives and address their concerns.
- Also, it is wise to hire a school nurse to monitor students’ symptoms regularly and isolate any sick students from the rest of the school.
When and how to reopen schools, schools will have to take one of the toughest and most difficult decisions in the future. As the virus evolves and transmits in a non-linear fashion, schools will ensure that they open and provide a safe environment for their students by keeping all safeguards in place.
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