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CDC releases new guidelines for the reopening of U.S. schools

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At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, many U.S. states are moving through Phase 1 of the reopening process, which means they're considering how and when to reopen K-12 schools.

On Tuesday, the CDC updated its website with information to help guide school officials through the process of reopening the nation's classrooms.

The CDC recommends that schools officials consult with state and local health officials to determine the best way to apply its suggestions and reiterates that the guidelines it suggests are not meant to replace any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply.

The guidelines include suggestions on how to apply social distancing in a school setting, such as the closure of communal settings like cafeterias and auditoriums. 

This will be a big change for schools. Additional changes are detailed below. 

Classroom Settings

The CDC categorizes classroom settings in three ways, settings that are considered low risk, more risk, and highest risk. A description of these categories is listed below. 

-Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.

-More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).

-Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

The following adjustments are recommended in classrooms:

-Space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible.

-Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.

-Create distance between children on school buses (g., seat children one child per row, skip rows) when possible.

COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection.

So, the CDC recommends that teachers show students the proper way to wash their hands and that numerous hand-washing/social distancing reminder signs be placed throughout campuses. In addition to this, daily announcements with reminders about how to avoid contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 should be broadcast throughout the school.

The CDC also suggests that every school employee, from bus drivers to teachers to office workers, implement a cleaning schedule that they follow daily. They should thoroughly sanitize their work area and especially areas where students and teachers congregate.

Eating and Drinking on Campus

In addition to this, water fountains should be used with caution. The CDC says, "Drinking fountains should be cleaned and sanitized, but encourage staff and students to bring their own water to minimize use and touching of water fountains."

Breakfast and lunch services will look somewhat different from what students are used to. The CDC says students should bring their own meals as feasible, or staff should serve individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria, while ensuring the safety of children with food allergies.pdf icon

In addition to this, the use of disposable food service items are suggested and if disposable items are not feasible or desirable, non-disposable food service items should be handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.

If food is offered at any event, the CDC says schools should provide pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family-style meal. It also advises that teachers and students avoid sharing food and utensils to ensure the safety of children with food allergies.pdf icon

The CDC encourages teachers, students, and other staff members to follow personal prevention practices (such as handwashingstaying home when sick) and environmental cleaning and disinfection to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread during school sessions and activities.

Click here for more information from the CDC on the safe reopening of schools. 



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