Return to school guidance released for St. Louis area schools

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ST. LOUIS – New return to school guidelines were released today to help school districts plan for the start of a new school year during COVID-19. The release says the guidelines are to help maintain consistency among area school districts.

The recommendations were created by a working group of several area superintendents, health care professionals, and health department officials. They have also been endorsed by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, EducationPlus, and Independent Schools of St. Louis.

The guidelines discuss face mask use for children over 9-years-old and staff. It also establishes protocols for various activities like gym, lunch, and recess. There are also guidelines for parent drop-off and pick up.

Each section of guidelines are categorized into “must” and “may”. The document also includes some general suggestions which include”

General Parameters/Suggestions:

  • Establish a plan for daily screening for illness or exposure to the novel coronavirus.
  • Minimize interaction—stagger lunch times, alternate common space usage and keep students in cohorts to the extent possible.
  • Keep students physically distanced in a classroom, to the extent possible.
  • Avoid large gatherings that mix multiple groups and do not allow for social distancing. For the short-term, avoid assemblies and pep rallies.
  • Develop contingency plans to respond to changes in the level of transmission in the community. Protocols should be developed for hybrid and virtual learning that can be activated if the circumstances dictate.

Social Distancing:

Schools Must:

  • Establish social distancing protocols for various activities during the school day—classroom, cafeteria, gym, playground, etc.
  • Establish a process for social distancing, not mixing different student groups, and sanitizing between groups when students are eating within a cafeteria.
  • Establish a contained area (such as a vestibule) for parents when checking students in/out during the school day. If others are waiting to check their student in, they should wait outside (in their vehicle if necessary) so there is a limited number of individuals in the contained area. Only one person at a time should be waiting in the contained area.
  • Discontinue allowing non-essential visitors into the school.
  • Administer health screening questions if anyone is allowed into the school building. Face masks should be required for these individuals.
  • Keep accurate records of anyone who has been inside a building in case an outbreak occurs to assist with contact tracing efforts. Schools May Consider:
    • Addressing class size by splitting classes, requiring attendance on alternating days and/or reducing the number of students within the classroom.
    • Adjusting elective classes by offering activities within the classroom instead of students moving to a new space.
    • Establishing a schedule for varying arrival and departure times to minimize the number of students entering and exiting the building at the same time.

Screening – Staff

Schools Must:

• Implement a health screening for all staff before reporting to work.

Schools May Consider:

  • Administering a self-assessment before or when reporting to work. Questions on the self- assessment should include the new onset of any of the following not explained by another known condition (note: the CDC may update symptoms at any time): fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; or if the individual has been in close contact in the past 2 weeks with an individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • If a staff member answers “Yes” to any of the screening questions, they should not report to work.
  • Implementing random temperature checks to reinforce the practice of self-screening.
  • Conducting a temperature check and administer screening questions when staff member reports to work.

Screening – Students

Schools Must:

• Implement a health screening for all students before reporting to school.

Schools May Consider:

  • Establishing a protocol for parents to screen their own children before sending to school. This would include a temperature check and screening questions similar to those administered to staff.
  • Taking temperatures of students as they enter the building and requiring parents to complete screening questions for their own children before sending to school. Note that only a minority of children who have COVID-19 will have a fever. Furthermore, temperature checks of students may create a bottleneck and cause the crowding and contact with other students that should be avoided.

When Someone Is Sick

Schools Must (when someone is identified with any symptoms listed in the health screening):

  • Send a staff member home immediately. If it is a student, isolate the student until arrangements can be made for the child to be picked up by a parent or guardian.
  • Advise the individual to contact a healthcare provider if they exhibit symptoms or answered “Yes” to any screening question. The healthcare provider will be able to determine whether the symptoms are a result of COVID-19 infection or if there are other health issues.
  • Follow the guidance of the local health department regarding contact tracing, classroom or school closure, notification of community, sanitizing protocols, etc. if a case of COVID-19 is identified within the school.

Face Masks (or Face Shields) – Staff

Schools Must:

  • Require staff members to wear a face mask or face shield when within 6 feet of another individual.
  • Require adults who are not staff members to wear a face mask when inside a building.
  • Provide medical grade face masks, eye protection and other PPE to nurses and other staff for use when working with students who become ill at school.
  • Instruct staff in the proper manner which a face mask should be worn.

Schools May Consider:

• Providing face shields for health care workers as an additional precaution.

Face Masks – Students

Schools Must:

  • Encourage older students (over the age of 9) to wear a face mask if there are circumstances that put them in close areas. If at all possible, wearing masks when in a hallway during passing period is highly recommended. Younger students who are less able to comply with a requirement to wear a face mask should not be asked to do so.
  • Isolate any student who becomes ill and provide a face mask.
  • Instruct students who are being required to wear a face mask in the proper manner in which a mask should be worn. Efforts should be made to destigmatize the wearing of face masks to protect those students who need to wear one.

Schools May Consider:

  • Requiring older students (over the age of 9) to wear face masks at all times.
    o It should be noted that improper use of a cloth facemask or frequent hand-to-face activity which might be stimulated by continuous face mask usage could result in increased risk of infection.
  • Requiring all students to wear face masks at all times.

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