To open schools or not? You can’t go on any form of media for more than a few minutes before the topic comes up. Frequently the Centers for Disease Control Guidelines are mentioned. However, there is seldom an in-depth discussion of those guidelines. This is probably because they are quite lengthy. The following is a synopsis of the guidelines.
The CDC refers to its materials as "Guiding Principles to Keep in Mind." First, the more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
They see three levels of risk of COVID-19 spread in school settings. The lowest risk is when students and teachers engage in virtual-only interaction.
Moderate, they say more risk, is with small, in-person classes, activities and events. In this case students stay together and with the same teacher throughout the school days and groups do not mix. The students practice social distancing and remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (books, lab equipment, etc.) There is no staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes to prevent cross-contamination from group to group.
At highest risk are full-sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough or sneeze. Then the virus may spread to hands and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. Personal prevention practices (handwashing, staying home when sick) and environmental cleaning and disinfection are important to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread during school sessions and activities.
Cloth face coverings are stressed. Both children and adults should be taught to use cloth face coverings. This must be reinforced. This may not be easy for students, (especially younger students) to wear all day in school. However, it has recently been discovered anyone 10 years old and older readily spreads the virus even when they appear asymptomatic (no symptoms). Face coverings should be worn by staff and students and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. There should be frequent reminders not to touch the face covering and to wash hands frequently. Information should be provided to staff, students and students’ families on proper use, removal and washing of cloth face coverings.
Exceptions to cloth face coverings are: cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than 2 years old; anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious; anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.
Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms as well as protecting the wearer from an infected person.
The guidelines also cover modified classroom layouts, physical barriers, communal spaces, food service and more. You can find the complete guidelines at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html
These are frightening times for parents. We all want to keep children and grandchildren safe. Being educated on the topic is your best defense and will help you decide what is best for your child and family. Science gives us facts, not opinions. The CDC is science-based; get your information from a science-based source.
Mrs. Theil is a child advocate in Wayne and Holmes counties. She can be contacted at BeverlyVT@aol.com.