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CDC lays out plans to reopen schools

Kim Harris

Managing Editor

After months of speculation as to what school reopening would look like at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its guidelines focusing mainly on social distancing, recently. 

The guidelines, which included desks at least 6 feet apart and facing the same direction, lunch in classrooms, staggered arrival times, cloth masks for staff and daily temperature screenings for everyone, were part of a 60-page document posted to the CDC website the weekend of May 16.

In addition to social distancing in the schools, the guidance also advised that buses leave every other row empty, add bars, add sneeze guards and said child care centers should limit sharing of art supplies.

"Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community," the CDC said, leaving much of the decision-making up to state, county and local school districts. "Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs of each community."

According to the guidance, school districts should educate staff, students and parents about when to stay home, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette and cloth face coverings.

The CDC said that all schools should have adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene such as soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes, cloth face coverings and no-touch/foot pedal trash cans. Other recommendations include the posting of signage in high visibility locations. promoting protective measures and describing how to stop the spread of germs, regular broadcast announcements on reducing the spread of COVID-19 and messages about behaviors that prevent the spread of the virus when communicating with staff and families.

Also in the guidance is a listing of things schools should do to maintain healthy environments to include cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces both in the school and on school buses and developing a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfection.

Schools should limit or discourage the sharing of objects between students as well as keep each child's belongings separated from others and in individually labeled containers, cubbies or areas, ensure there are adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials such as art supplies or equipment and avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books and other games or learning aids.

Schools will also need to ensure all ventilation systems are operating properly, increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible and ensure that all water systems and features are safe to use following the prolonged shutdown. While drinking fountains can still be used, the CDC is recommending all schools encourage staff and students to bring their own water bottles to minimize the touching and use of water fountains.

Other criteria include schools providing physical guidelines such as tape on the floors or sidewalks or signs on the walls to ensure that staff and students remain at least 6 feet apart, the closure of communal spaces such as dining halls, playgrounds and playground equipment and the addition of physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.

Restrictions for cafeteria and food services include children bringing their own meals as feasible or the cafeteria serving individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria and using disposable food service items, such utensils and dishes. If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher. Individuals should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items. 

If food is offered at any event, the CDC recommended using prepackaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family-style meal. Avoid sharing food and utensils.

For more information or to read the full guidance, visit care/schools.html.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at [email protected].


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