We’re in the midst of a national debate over how best to educate our children in the fall. While schooling decisions are made at the state and often municipal level, as a society there’s a big question mark around how effectively we can fully reopen the economy if children remain home. At the same time, how do we ensure staff and educators stay safe in classrooms with children coming and going on a daily basis? 

In New York, where the country’s worst outbreak occurred in the spring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a plan that opens or closes schools based on the daily infection rate in the area. In Florida, the Education Commissioner announced last week that “all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students.” Many wonder if a state with such a high infection rate can keep its teachers safe with schools open. Others say it’s a necessity to get parents back to work in full and avoid further economic damage. 

The bottom line, though, is that if schools are going to open this full in even a fraction of their normal capacity – the first time for most of them since mid-March – measures need to be implemented to protect staff and teachers. Let’s take a closer look at what those measures entail and how they can be metered out in a safe and supportive manner. 

The High Risk of Spread in a School Setting

Schools were among the first institutions to shut down in March when the coronavirus started spreading in the United States. Hundreds of children from different households gather daily with dozens of educators and staff and pack into small classrooms, working in close proximity.

At the time it remained unclear if children were able to carry the illness and infect adults, even despite the lower infection rate among children. Now we know that children can still get COVID-19, albeit often much milder, and therefore carry and spread it. There is certainly a concern for them because of this, but even more so, a need to protect teachers, educational staff, and support staff who are more susceptible to the disease, especially if they are in high-risk populations. 

When children go back home, if their parents are frontline workers or elderly, they become a perfect vehicle to transfer and spread the infection. For schools to be open, measures must be in place that detect, prevent, and monitor in the workplace to avoid this happening. 

Detection in Schools

To effectively protect staff, schools will need to implement systems that traditional industry has been utilizing since reopening started in May. The first element of this is detection – having the resources in place to rapidly detect new COVID-19 cases and respond to symptoms before they have a chance to spread.

Self-reporting by school staff – ideally before they leave their home every morning, temperature checks at the door to ensure no one enters the building with a fever, and even having testing kits on-site that staff and teachers can use if they start to develop symptoms during the school day are all important elements of detection in schools. 

Prevention in Schools

Study after study has shown that one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus is to wear masks and other PPE. By combining properly worn face coverings with physical distancing, it’s more difficult for the virus to spread, reducing the risk of infection. 

Physical distancing measures will be difficult enough in many classrooms, especially for younger children who are used to hands-on time with teachers and staff, so it’s imperative that masks are worn at all times. Wearing the correct masks that can be purchased at scale, in the correct way will be an important part of any reopening plans this fall. 

Monitoring in Schools 

Even with detection and prevention measures in place, a single case can spread out of control in schools without monitoring. When a case is identified it needs to be recorded, testing needs to be required, and any teacher or student who was in contact with the infected individual needs to be monitored for symptoms and potentially quarantined until they test negative. 

This can be difficult to do at scale without the right technology in place. Paper and pen recording can be time-consuming and inaccurate. Individuals manually managing paperwork can lead to lost forms, or requiring infected individuals to leave their homes to turn the paperwork in. Manual logging of temperatures and symptom checks at the start of the day can delay the school day and create bottlenecks. A fully digitized monitoring solution is highly recommended to support these efforts. 

Safely Pass for Schools Helps Address These Challenges

Safely Pass was designed to get people back to work…safely. The free Safely Pass app supports digitized site-entry monitoring and self-declarations that can be filled out effortlessly in just a few seconds, notifying the school of any issues. The app enables contact tracing and compliance with local, state, and federal safety regulations. This is supplemented by low-cost masks and PPE solutions and testing for teachers and educational staff. 

Learn more about Andonix’s suite of Safely Pass tools and services and how to start preparing your school for a safe, successful return to operation.