Face masks for teachers, 6-feet spaced seating part of draft guidelines to reopen US schools

The draft advisory, which is being reviewed by the White House, also lists guidelines for faith communities, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators.


                            Face masks for teachers, 6-feet spaced seating part of draft guidelines to reopen US schools
(Getty Images)

Face masks for all teachers, staggered pick-up and drop off times at schools, and desks placed six feet apart: these are part of the draft guidelines being reviewed by the White House for the phase-wise reopening of schools in the US. 

The draft advisory, obtained by the Washington Post, also lists guidelines for child care programs, faith communities, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators. While the White House had previously released a three-phase reopening plan for the US amid the coronavirus pandemic, it did not list specific details. 

“Members of the White House coronavirus task force and other officials received the guidelines late last week, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the guidelines have not been officially released. The White House is finalizing (the) expanded guidelines to allow their phased reopening,” says the Washington Post report. 

According to the interim guidance, during all phases of reopening, schools and day camps need to protect and support staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning. Again, across all phases, the document advises teaching and reinforcing washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes among children and staff, besides teaching and reinforcing the use of cloth face coverings among all staff. 

“Face coverings are most essential in times when physical distancing is not possible. Staff should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently. Information should be provided to all staff on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings. Have adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors, including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer), tissues, and no-touch trash cans. Post signs on how to stop the spread of COVID-19, properly wash hands, promote everyday protective measures, and properly wear a face covering,” says the draft.

During all phases of reopening, schools need to protect and support staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning, say experts. (Getty Images)

In phase-1, schools that are currently closed should remain closed. E-learning or distance learning opportunities should be provided for all students besides ensuring the provision of student services such as school meal programs. During phase 2, schools can remain open with enhanced social distancing measures and for children who live in the local geographic area only. In the third phase, schools can remain open with distancing measures, and attendance should be restricted to those from limited transmission areas only.
 
The recommendations depend on community monitoring to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, say experts. “Communities with low levels of COVID-19 spread and those with confidence that the incidence of infection is genuinely low may put in place the practices described as part of a phased reopening. All decisions about following these recommendations should be made in collaboration with local health officials and other state and local authorities who can help assess the current level of mitigation needed based on levels of COVID-19 community transmission and the capacities of the local public health and healthcare systems, among other relevant factors,” says the document. 

During phases 1 and 2, schools are being advised to cancel all field trips, inter-group events, and extracurricular activities, as well as limiting gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain social distancing, support proper hand hygiene. The experts say that nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving other groups at the same time should be restricted. Seatings or desks should be spaced at least six feet apart, and close communal use spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds should be shut, if possible. If not, the document recommends staggering use and disinfecting in between use. “If a cafeteria or group dining room is typically used, serve meals in classrooms instead. Serve individually plated meals and hold activities in separate classrooms,” it says. The document suggests that arrival and drop-off times or locations need to be staggered, or other protocols must be put in place to limit direct contact with parents as much as possible. “Create social distance between children on school buses where possible,” it adds.

In the third phase too, schools are being advised to continue to space out seating and bedding (head-to-toe positioning) to six feet apart, if possible, as well as staggering arrival and drop-off times or locations. “Consider keeping communal use spaces closed. Consider continuing to plate each child’s meal, to limit the use of shared serving utensils. Consider limiting nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving other groups. Restrict attendance of those from higher transmission areas (phase 1 or 2 areas),” says the guidance. 

The draft says that teachers and staff must be trained for implementing safety actions. “Implement screenings safely, respectfully, as well as in accordance with any applicable privacy laws or regulations. Confidentiality should be maintained. Encourage staff to stay home if they are sick and encourage parents to keep sick children home. Encourage staff or children who are sick to stay at home,” it recommends. 

The document also lays guidelines on what can be done if someone falls sick. This includes identifying an isolation room or area to separate anyone who exhibits COVID-19-like symptoms, closing off areas used by a sick person, and waiting 24 hours before disinfecting the area. “Advise sick staff members not to return until they have met CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation. Establish procedures for safely transporting anyone sick home or to a healthcare facility. Notify local health officials, staff, and families immediately of a possible case while maintaining confidentiality,” it suggests.

Similar phase-wise recommendations have been outlined in the draft for child care programs. It says phase 1 can be restricted to children of essential workers in areas needing significant mitigation, expanding to all children with enhanced social distancing measures in phase 2, and remaining open for all children with social distancing measures.

The guidance says that teachers and staff must be trained for implementing safety actions.
(Getty Images)

Communities of faith

Meanwhile, the interim draft guidance for communities of faith recommends restricting gatherings to those that can be held virtually (by remote viewing) for vulnerable populations and video streaming or drive-in options for services during the first and second phases. The advisory calls for limiting the size of in-person gatherings as per the guidance and directives of state and local authorities, and maintain social distancing. “During phase 3, limit gatherings to those that can maintain social distancing and consider video streaming or drive-in options for vulnerable populations,” it says.

During all phases, cloth face covering at all gatherings are being encouraged, except for children aged less than 2 years old. “Not using a cloth face covering may also be appropriate at times for some individuals who have trouble breathing or need assistance to remove their mask,” it says.

Bars and restaurants

Experts suggest that bars should remain closed and restaurant service should remain limited to the drive-through, curbside take out, or delivery with strict social distancing during the first phase. In phase 2, bars may open with limited capacity, and restaurants may open dining rooms with limited seating capacity that allows for social distancing. In the third phase, bars may open with increased standing room occupancy that allows for social distancing, while restaurants may
operate while maintaining social distancing. 

Experts suggest that bars should remain closed and restaurant service should remain limited to the drive-through, curbside take out, or delivery with strict social distancing during the first phase.
(Getty Images)

The recommendations for all three phases include considering assigning vulnerable workers duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees -- such as managing inventory rather than working as a cashier, or managing administrative needs through telework. It also includes cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, avoiding sharing items such as menus, condiments, and any other food, and replacing them with disposable or digital menus, single-serving condiments, and no-touch trash cans and doors.

“Use touchless payment options as much as possible, when available. Use disposable food service items (utensils, dishes). If disposable items are not feasible, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher,” experts recommend.

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