COVID-19 Fall 2020 Return to School

Posted: Aug. 18, 2020

COVID-19 Fall 2020 Return to School

COVID-19 and Society – Where are We?

COVID-19 is still a very new disease whose epidemiology is not all that well known, despite the massive efforts being poured into scientific studies.  Even when a consensus seems to emerge on the behaviour of the disease, new findings can make it subject to change.

In those countries who have experienced a peak in the so-called first wave, some common preventative measures, taken together, have dampened the rate of infection to levels that society and the health system can deal with.  Determining the extent to which restrictive measures can be relaxed is a difficult exercise because of the epidemiological uncertainties and the difficulty of restraining people who have been cut-off from social interactions for so long.  There have been both failures and successes in this reopening effort.

It seems that we may have COVID-19 with us for some time.  In the meantime, the goal of safely returning to a more fully functioning society, with restrictions to manage the disease and safeguard public health, seems to be a reasonable one.

The case for reopening schools

In North America and elsewhere, there is movement to reopen schools in the context of what we think we know about COVID-19 and the harm that keeping schools closed can have on our children and our society.  The Canadian Pediatric Society and the U.S Centers for Disease Control (amongst others) have taken the position that reopening K-12 schools, with restrictions, poses a reasonable risk relative to the harm that can be done by keeping children out of school.

The CDC cites studies indicating (with some uncertainty) that:

  • Children are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults
  • Children have a lower rate of negative outcomes from COVID-19 than adults
  • Children are not a source of primary transmission amongst family members
  • Children are not primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or the community

The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) has also cited studies in making their case for school reopening.  The CPS has this to say about the children being out of school, in a letter sent to all provincial governments:

  • Children rely on schools for physical and mental health services, nutritious food, safety, security and support
  • Children with special needs, from low-income households, and those for whom home is not a safe place, are facing significant consequences.
  • Facilitating a return to school is crucial to the health and wellbeing of children.

Governments have cited these and other claims by reputable organizations as their basis for reopening schools.  Some misgivings have been expressed by parents, teachers and health professionals on how best to proceed.  Nevertheless, to varying degrees, governments are generally promoting the return of in-class instruction for K-12 students.

Return to School – Common measures and how we can support them

The science behind returning to school is not exact and there is a trade-off, between increased risk and further harm to the normal development of children, to be considered.  Parents and others who are concerned, have every right to be.  

The measures being taken by schools to provide a safe learning environment can and should be supported at home as they have generally been effective when used collectively.  These include:

  • Daily self-screening of children and school staff according to the protocols that are in-place.
  • Never attending school without consulting a health professional or authority if there is any suspicion of COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Following all health authority guidance for isolation after exposure or travel
  • Keeping cohort learning groups together at school, including family members travelling to school.
  • Keeping individual cohort groups physically distanced.
  • Emphasizing frequent hand hygiene and proper respiratory etiquette (sneezing, use and disposal of tissues)
  • Wearing masks when physical distancing cannot be reasonably maintained
  • Being very mindful of crowded indoor conditions and taking steps to obey traffic flow and maintain separation.
  • Frequent cleaning and sanitizing, especially of high touch common surfaces.
  • Eliminating shared objects and objects that cannot be easily cleaned.
  • Promoting outdoor activities.
  • Not stigmatizing those who become sick, who have to take extra measures because of their risk profile or those who do not receive the same support from home.

These are all common sense measures that taken together have dampened the first wave of COVID-19 infections.  Returning children to school is an emotionally stressful and personal choice based on individual situations, but maintaining physical distancing, practicing good hygiene, protecting others and cleaning and sanitizing are still important measures, in and out of school.

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