Late last week, the CDC issued new guidance on K-12 school reopening. It was accompanied by a handbook from the US Department of Education. School districts are no doubt scrambling to digest this new guidance and evaluate their plans in light of it. Parents and teachers are wondering what this will mean for their schools.
Here are some key takeaways from the new guidance:
- The association between COVID-19 cases/outbreaks in schools and levels of community transmission underscores the need to control the spread in the community.
- Communities should prioritize schools over nonessential businesses such as bars, restaurants, social gatherings.
- In-person elementary school carries less risk than secondary schools.
- Instruction should be prioritized over sports and extracurricular activities.
- Schools should provide virtual options to students, teachers and staff who are at high risk, or who live with someone who is.
- Schools should prioritize in-person learning for high needs students, such as students with disabilities.
The CDC is advising schools to using a layered risk reduction strategy. Strict adherence is needed in order to open safely and remain open.
The five key mitigation strategies are:
- Universal and correct wearing of masks
- Physical distancing – 6 feet
- Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
- Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
- Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine
Of these five, masking and 6 foot physical distancing are the most critical.
The CDC states very strongly that masks should be worn at all times, by all persons, in all parts of the school building.
Cohorting/podding is part of the physical distancing strategy.
Ventilation is part of the cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities strategy.
Screening testing and teacher vaccinations can add additional layers of protection, but are not required to reopen. The CDC has different reopening recommendations for schools that implement screening testing though.
The CDC uses a color coded system to identify four categories of community transmission: low (blue), moderate (yellow), substantial (orange), or high (red).
Recommendations on when to reopen and for which students vary depending on the level of community transmission, mitigation, and whether schools have screening testing. Mitigation should be phased depending on the level of community transmission – more/stricter mitigation is needed as community case levels rise.
Arlington is in the Red – High Transmission category and APS has not implemented screening testing to date. (It’s talking about it).
So this is the recommendation that currently applies to APS:
High (red) community transmission: Elementary schools continue hybrid instruction with all 5 key mitigation strategies in place. Universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing are required. For middle schools and high schools, transition to virtual instruction is recommended. Some middle schools and high schools may consider opening or remaining open if mitigation strategies are consistently implemented, school policies requiring universal and correct use of masks are in place, and monitoring of cases in school suggests limited transmission. In communities with high levels of transmission, high prevalence of COVID-19 in the community could also result in many teacher and staff quarantines due to exposures in the community, limiting the ability of schools to remain safely open.
Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation
ED COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools