Reopening of schools: Proceed with caution

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As schools reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a plethora of concerns exist. Return to school plans vary greatly countrywide.

Guidance has been provided by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) and should be used to guide in decision making.

Statistics to include percent of positive COVID 19 tests in a two-week span and hospitalization rates, specifically regions and school districts, should drive reopening plans.

Proceed with caution

While we are all anxious to “return to normal” establishing an arbitrary date for return to in person instruction without consideration of these measures should be avoided.

Florida’s executive order to open “brick-and-mortar” schools with five days of instruction by the end of August 2020 may not represent the best interest of every county nor community.

The daily percent of positive COVID 19 tests and hospital rates have declined in Florida over several weeks would be most reassuring.

In most cases, families and caregivers have to grapple with making a decision between in person traditional instruction or online/e-learning. Ultimately, the decision will vary throughout households and communities but should be based on science and the availability of resources.

Maintaining social distancing

Implementation of in-school learning will need to involve continuation of precautions that have become standard during this pandemic.

This will include strict hand cleanliness with soap and water and/or hand sanitizers. The use of masks will need to be mandatory and cannot be optional. Additionally, schools will need time to procure these high demand supplies.

Furthermore, social distancing will also need to be maintained. The standard distance has been established as 6 feet; however, recent research has suggested COVID-19 particles exist in poorly ventilated areas up to 16 feet.

This supports the need to incorporate use of outdoor space wherever possible. The ability to adequately fulfill these requirements further necessitate the need to carefully determine when brick and mortar schools should reopen.

Not adding up

A preset date for return to traditional learning that does not support science will be detrimental for communities that have been hardest hit by COVID 19.

Premature return to traditional learning would increase asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID 19. The attempt of some counties to start the first few weeks of school with virtual learning would have given these communities needed time to stabilize.

Ultimately, we will get to the point where we see some semblance of normalcy in our routine.However, hastily rushing to reach this goal in the absence of careful thought will make the process more difficult.

Stephanie Talton-Williamson, MD, is the president of the Bay Area Medical Association. Barbara  Nabrit-Stephens, MD, is the region trustee of the National Medical Association.

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