As an unprecedented school year comes to an end, millions of parents, students, and faculty members across the country are left wondering if schools will reopen in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This past spring, forty-seven states (with the exception of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana), as well as Washington D.C., shut down public and private K-12 schools statewide as SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, began its rapid spread. The majority of schools remained closed for the rest of the school year and many implemented remote learning programs. Schools in all five U.S. territories – American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – were also closed for the remainder of the school year. Some, including schools in Montana and Idaho, opened their doors again for a few weeks before the 2019-2020 academic school year finished with the thought of gaining experience in reopening that could be used in the fall. Texas is allowing schools to offer in-person summer school which started on June 1st, with classes limited, for now, to eleven people.
Families and communities need schools to be ready to reopen as soon as public health officials signal it is safe. While remote learning can be effective, it's challenging for many students and isn’t always ideal for younger children, especially when both parents are working and unable to assist. The bottom line, when public health officials give the green light, schools should be prepared to reopen. And a number of public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), have indicated that they expect schools will likely be able to reopen this fall. In a recent interview with CNN, Dr. Fauci stated, "I hesitate to make any broad statements about whether it is or is not quote 'safe' for kids to come back to school." Adding, "Children can get infected, so, yes, so you've got to be careful. You got to be careful for them and you got to be careful that they may not spread it. Now, to make an extrapolation that you shouldn't open schools, I think is a bit of a reach." Ultimately, Dr. Fauci said the decision to reopen schools needs to be based on the level of infection in each community, and added that safety measures must be put in place before reopening.
Children, of course, are not the only ones in schools; there are over three-and-a-half million school teachers nationwide, and an untold number of aides, assistants, administrators, counselors, food-service workers, custodians, guards, and school bus drivers. There are also vulnerable staff, faculty members, and students who are at-risk and need to be kept safe. With all of this in mind, the question remains: what would reopening schools in the fall look like? Reopening in a manner that is safe and responsive will involve a number of complex and novel challenges, which is why it is critically important to start planning immediately. Many of the complexities are reflected in guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which were released in mid-May. Among other measures, the CDC advises, when “feasible,” spacing desks six-feet apart, having children eat lunch at their desks, teachers and students using cloth face coverings, regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces, and preventing younger kids from sharing toys. In addition to the guidelines, the CDC also developed a reopening "decision tree" for school administrators.
Best Practices & Health Considerations for Reopening Schools
In order to reopen safely and resume face-to-face teaching, schools will need to adapt to evolving guidance from public-health officials based on a better understanding of COVID-19 risks and the related mitigation strategies. Health officials may recommend reopening schools only when certain hygiene and distancing measures are in place, as we are seeing in parts of Asia and Europe. Here are some key health considerations and best practices to be implemented when reopening schools, based on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC.
- First and foremost, school administrators, teachers, and parents should continue to monitor government websites for the latest information regarding COVID-19 and the necessary precautions to combat its spread. You can find a list of COVID-19 Informational Resources for Schools & Families
- It’s essential to offer children emotional support. When students come back to school after closures, it’s likely that many of them will bring with them an incredibly high level of need. In the most dire cases, students will have experienced trauma as issues of housing access and food insecurity are compounded by grief, loss, and even abuse. To meet these needs, schools should be prepared to offer a comprehensive set of emotional support services that address the needs of children and their families.
- Upon reopening, educate students, staff, and faculty members on proper handwashing hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Provide signage around classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms to keep everyone mindful of safety; cleaning routines, social distancing, symptom checks, and good respiratory hygiene. The CDC has developed a series of printable materials and posters for use in community settings, including schools.
- Depending on local circumstances, schools will need to consider closing playgrounds, suspending nonessential activities (including sports and extracurricular activities), moving faculty and parent-teacher meetings online, limiting on-campus visitors, administering COVID-19 tests, and requiring temperature checks for students and faculty entering buildings.
- School administrators must have a plan for communicating with parents and students to keep them informed with the latest guidelines and updates.
- Establish procedures if students or staff become unwell. Plan ahead with local health authorities, school health staff, and update emergency contact lists. Ensure a procedure for separating sick students and staff from those who are well (without creating stigma) and a process for informing parents/caregivers, and consulting with healthcare providers/health authorities wherever possible. Unwell students and staff may need to be referred directly to a health facility, depending on the situation, or sent home. Share procedures with staff, parents, and students before reopening.
- Schools will need to consider how to handle student meals; and should assess whether to serve meals in the classroom, in smaller groups in the cafeteria, or to offer grab-and-go boxed meals.
- Schools should identify and procure any needed personal protective equipment local public health officials recommend, including gloves, face masks, hand soap, hand sanitizer, and EPA-approved disinfectant, like Vital Oxide.
- It’s essential that classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and frequently-touched items and surfaces (including computers, tablets, desks, tables, and chairs) undergo regular deep cleanings and daily disinfection to minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
- Transportation, including school buses, will also need to be deep cleaned regularly and disinfected on a daily basis. To comply with social distancing, it may be best to encourage students to take their own transportation to school when possible, or to only use buses at half-capacity. In Taiwan, China, schools never officially closed; school buses and public transit continue to run as usual, but require cleaning and disinfection of seats, armrests, and grab handles at least once every 8 hours, including before and after shifts of students are transported.
Using Vital Oxide to Disinfect Schools & Transportation
Vital Oxide is colorless, odorless, and 100x more powerful than ordinary disinfectants, while being safe to use around kids, animals, and even food. The powerful solution kills 99.999% of bacteria and viruses, including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, without harsh fumes or harmful residues. Vital Oxide can be applied to both hard and soft surfaces to disinfect. When using Vital Oxide, there is no need to wear safety gloves, or to rinse after applying. Simply spray Vital Oxide and let air dry. Vital Oxide can also be applied to large areas (such as classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, kitchens, cafeterias, and school buses) quickly, efficiently, and effectively with an electrostatic sprayer, making it ideal for daily use in a school environment. In addition to hospitals, airplanes, healthcare centers, restaurants, nursing homes, businesses, and in homes, Vital Oxide has long been used in school settings, childcare centers, and even in museums, like the South Florida Science Museum to disinfect.
COVID-19 Informational Resources for Schools & Families
World Health Organization (WHO)
- Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools: Learn about important information on COVID-19 for school administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents.
- COVID-19 Overview: Keep up to date on the latest information and resources from WHO.
U.S. Department of Education
- COVID-19 ("Coronavirus") Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel: Read about information and resources for schools on COVID-19.
- Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities: This is a supplemental fact sheet providing additional guidance to ensure students with disabilities continue receiving educational resources during COVID-19.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- COVID-19 Information Overview Learn more about COVID-19 symptoms, steps to protect yourself, and other resources.
- Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs (COVID-19) : Access information about interim guidance for school administrators in response to COVID-19.
- Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19: Learn more about interim guidance pertaining to critical infrastructure workers.
- Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Schools: Visit this CDC page for a plan that focuses on cleaning and disinfecting schools and public spaces that can also be applied to your home and business.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- DHS Responds to COVID-19: Learn about DHS actions to protect the American public from COVID-19 and additional updates.
Vital Oxide is here to keep your schools and homes schools safe and germ-free. If you have any questions, please Contact Us at any time. We’re here to help.