What do you do when someone gets sick? As our schools begin to reopen, this question weighs heavily on administrators, teachers, students, and parents alike. Having a clear plan in place when someone has had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, develops symptoms, or receives a positive test result is a crucial part of any reopening strategy.
The CDC outlines four steps that should be taken when someone does get sick:
Advise staff and families of students sick with COVID-19 of home isolation criteria
Isolate and transport those who are sick
Clean and disinfect
Notify health officials and close contacts
The first step schools should take is making sure that staff and families of students know when they should stay home in order to isolate. Sick staff members or students should not return to school until they have met the CDC’s criteria for discontinuing home isolation.
As of September 10, 2020, the CDC says if you think or know you have COVID-19 and had symptoms that you can be around others after:
10 days since symptoms first appeared and
24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving
If you tested positive for COVID-19 but had no symptoms, you can be around others after 10 days since you had a positive test result.
If you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you should isolate for 14 days after you’re last exposure UNLESS:
Has COVID-19 illness within the previous 3 months and
Has recovered and
Remains without COVID-19 symptoms (for example, cough, shortness of breath)
Based just on the above information, it can be a little bit complicated to know how long you need to stay home and away from other people. As a result, it’s extremely important that school leaders communicate with staff and families of students, so people understand what to expect. Additionally, states or local authorities may have stricter guidelines that need to be followed.
After home isolation protocols are planned out, school administrators need to prepare for when someone develops symptoms or learns of close contact with someone who has COVID-19 while at school. Screening teachers, staff, and students before school each day helps to prevent sick individuals from arriving at school, but there is still risk that someone could develop symptoms or learn that they are potentially exposed throughout the school day.
Schools should develop a plan for where potentially sick students and staff can isolate from others. If current school medical facilities do not allow for proper social distancing, schools may need to repurpose a larger room or construct temporary facilities.
After isolating a potentially sick individual, schools will need to plan for cleaning and disinfecting of the areas used by them. In our blog post, Four Strategies for Maintaining Healthy Environments in Schools, we discuss general cleaning and disinfecting guidelines. In addition to regular cleaning, the CDC recommends that areas used by a sick person should not be used until after they are cleaned and disinfected. If possible, the CDC recommends that schools wait at least 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting areas used by a sick individual in order to minimize the risk of transmission to others.
The last step is for school administrators to notify local health officials, staff, and families of any case of COVID-19. When doing so, school administrators need to maintain confidentiality in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FEPRA), and other applicable laws and regulations. School administrators will need to notify everybody who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms. Depending on the situation, schools may need to temporarily move to online only instruction or move a particular cohort or group online. Schools will need to work with local health officials in order to determine appropriate next steps.
We all certainly hope to avoid outbreaks at schools, though it is important to take as many prevention measures and prepare for the possibility that an outbreak occurs.
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