Pandemic v. Schools - National Coalition for Healthier Schools Plan for Safe Reopening

School Buildings and Occupants Can Speed or Slow the Spread of COVID-19
By: Coalition for Healthier Schools
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - July 9, 2020 - PRLog -- As pressure mounts for schools to reopen this fall, awareness is growing of the need for specific plans on how schools will not just open, but stay open, by protecting the health of children and their families, teachers, administrators and school staff.  By their nature, schools are an environment conducive to the spread of illnesses, including COVID-19. They are densely occupied for long periods and have a well-documented history of deferred maintenance which has resulted in well-known problems with ventilation and indoor air and plumbing, and challenges in cleaning.

The virus is not going away. Moreover, the poorest communities hardest hit by COVID-19 also send their children to the poorest schools in the worst condition, making this a supremely challenging health and education equity and rights problem with no quick solution.

Over 60 national public health and healthy school leaders joined the Coalition for Healthier Schools today to release a National Call to Action for state health agencies to provide an authoritative School Infection Prevention and Control Plan to all schools to adopt. The current piecemeal approach to no-plan-just-open, will clearly deepen the disparities and sow more confusion. The Plan covers state roles and local roles, notes federal and state regulations in place, then outlines considerations in reopening buildings that have been closed for weeks if not months, maintaining and updating ventilation and cleaning protocols, and then discusses options for scheduling occupancy, including screening for illnesses, masks and PPE, and services for children with health and learning issues.

The scope of the problems cannot be understated. On any one school day, about 20% of the US population is in a school. Like adults, children may shed and transmit the coronavirus, yet show no symptoms. Of the 50 million children in public schools, nearly 40% do not have Internet use at home, 29 million receive subsidized school meals, and about a quarter have chronic health conditions. Twenty percent of the teaching staff is age 55 or older, a high-risk category for COVID-19.

Schools can either slow the spread of the virus or speed it up. If they are to reduce, rather than increase, the risk of new COVID-19 outbreaks and repeated closures, schools will need to adopt districtwide, facility-level written school infection prevention and control plans.

School Infection Prevention and Control Plans. This report is the national call to action for the public health community—for state, tribal and big city public health agencies—to produce guidance in the form of an authoritative School Infection Prevention and Control Plan that local schools can adopt as they prepare for reopening.

Led by Healthy Schools Network and the New Jersey Work Environment Council, the Coalition worked to produce a nationally unique plan of action that begins by addressing both student and employees health and safety. This Call to Action offers elected and appointed officials, families and teachers guideposts to increase the chances for safe re-openings.

"As we prepare to reopen schools, we must ensure that schools remain centers of safety as well as beacons for education," said Claire Barnett, executive director of the New York-based Healthy Schools Network. "For communities like some in the Bronx, that are still experiencing significant transmission rates, it is critical that the state provide clear guidelines and make investments to help schools prepare to reopen. Otherwise, we risk reopening to the possible detriment of already vulnerable communities."

Today's virtual press conference included presentations by school and public health leaders and experts. The recorded press conference presentation is available here.

Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director, NJ Work Environment Council, Trenton, NJ.
"Occupational health is vital to protecting public health.  As state officials and school administrators prepare to resume in person instruction, development of COVID-19 plans for schools must include school staff, parents and community stakeholders in the planning process. Communication, transparency and training must be at the core of any plan."

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, MACP(E), FNAPA, Executive Director, American Public Health Association. "This call to action is crucial because only through uniform infection and control guidance can we reduce the risk of significant COVID-19 infections in schools. Such outbreaks would not only be potentially catastrophic for the lives of students, teachers and other school workers, but have dire consequences for educational programs."

Veronika Carella, Legislative Director, Maryland Children's Environmental Health Coalition. "Re-opening schools currently closed during the COVID-19 Pandemic provides opportunities to perform proactive maintenance to ensure that pests (and germs) are excluded from our children's school buildings and grounds, thus significantly reducing (or eliminating) the need to resort to chemical means of pest control."

Cindy Cipoletti, Executive Director, Learning Disabilities Association of America.  "Students with disabilities have been among those most harmed by school closures and learning loss. While it is a priority for Learning Disabilities Association of America is to get our students with learning and other disabilities back into schools with the supports and services they need, this must be accomplished with the highest levels of safety and risk mitigation."

Donna Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, CAE, FNASN, Executive Director, National Association of School Nurses
"In order for parents to send their children to school, they must believe that schools will be safe spaces for their children and families. School nurses have expertise and knowledge in readiness, emergency management,  and infection control practices within schools, giving parents confidence as they return to work and students return to in-person instruction. Approximately 30,000 US public schools - 25% - have no school nurse to provide this guidance.

Claire L. Barnett
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Tags:Reopen Schools, COVID-19, School Infection Prevention Plans
Industry:Health, Education
Location:Saratoga Springs - New York - United States
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