When medical experts and leaders discuss Covid-19 and the Delta variant and school safety, they refer to mitigation strategies for keeping students and staff safe. They sound confident that schools will employ layers of organized, controlled, and routine preventative steps. They still don’t seem to understand the problems schools face with mitigations.
Or they say when schools use mitigation strategies, the classroom will be safer. That implies that some schools may not be complying with mitigations for whatever reason. This leaves a lot to chance.
The Delta variant is putting children into hospitals, nearly 1 in 4 Covid cases are now children, and they’re said to be getting sicker than last year when public schools had remote and hybrid options.
Many school districts are refusing a remote option with teachers. This seems dangerous and with poor planning.
Adults getting vaccinated is important, as is getting students over age 12 vaccinated. Maybe middle and high schools for vaccinated students over 12 and adults who have been vaccinated might be safe, in a controlled setting, if schools mandated that all who attend school be vaccinated. But that’s not happening.
Once again, everything depends on mitigations. As schools begin this fall, confidence in prevention strategies is high among those not working in schools, maybe because everyone wants normal so badly, but is this justified? Who’s really monitoring mitigations in schools?
Dr. Leana S. Wen said in The Washington Post last November:
With much of the United States engulfed in exponential virus spread and many hospitals already overwhelmed, most schools should close and stay closed through the winter.
One of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that layering different forms of protection works. That means parents, teachers and school administrators should have a checklist of data-driven tools to shield kids and the adults in the classroom from coronavirus infection and long COVID, especially since millions of children are not eligible for vaccines yet.
Proper and well-fitting face masks, ventilation, maximizing time outdoors and vaccines for those who are eligible can protect kids, she said. Each strategy — the various layers of available protections — reduces the chances that a child will catch or spread the virus when they are back at school. And if an unvaccinated child spends hours in the classroom, parents need to scale back other possible high-risk activities, like indoor playdates or sleepovers with other unvaccinated children.
This sounds like schools are safer, but mitigations in schools are still a concern. Mitigation improvements are not consistent in schools.
- Universal and correct use of masks required
- Physical distancing
- Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
- Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
- Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine
The top two strategies are masks and physical distancing.
Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from spreading. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.
The obvious problem with masks is that many won’t agree about wearing them. Some schools don’t require masks.
Once parents are convinced that their child is safer wearing a mask, it’s important to get the right kind of mask.
Do students correctly wear the mask? Masks are unpleasant, especially for long periods of time. They get dirty, and children touch and fidget with them.
Students must also remove their masks to eat. How do schools set up safe eating areas?
Wearing a mask is better than not wearing one, but it isn’t foolproof.
Physically distancing in school has never made sense, although students are sometimes kept apart in class, or have plastic barriers on their desks.
This is a great time to lower class sizes which have been too large for too long, but many teachers are already raising concerns about having too many students in packed classrooms.
High school teachers see rotating groups of students, in the same classroom, sometimes up to 200 different students, every day!
Classrooms, hallways, school buses and sporting events, and other school places might still bring students very close together.
Clean hands are still important. Soap and water are best, hand sanitizers are next best, but simply washing hands is not going to protect students from an airborne virus.
We hear schools are getting billions from the Biden administration, but it isn’t clear how the money is being spent.
School district administrators state they’re using the money to upgrade air quality in schools, but some schools have old HVAC systems difficult and expensive to fix.
Some teachers still teach in windowless classrooms or with windows that don’t open. Others aren’t sure how ventilation has been improved. Some teachers bring their own air purifiers.
Other schools spray classrooms with questionable chemicals.
Another question is, who’s maintaining the HVAC system? School districts might have a shortage of engineers and architects who understand how HVAC systems work.
Improvements in air filtration in school heating and air conditioning systems has been found to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many of ABSS’ older buildings have aging systems anyway. There didn’t turn out to be enough money to upgrade every school, so the district had to prioritize.
Wouldn’t parents want their children in the prioritized schools? It sounds like some children will attend schools with good air quality and others won’t.
Some schools do contact tracing, and others don’t. Here’s Texas.
Texas school districts will not be required to conduct contact tracing this year if a student contracts COVID-19, according to new guidelines issued by the Texas Education Agency this week.
Parents asking, is my child’s school building safe, may not get good answers. It often isn’t clear how safe their child’s school is. How big is their child’s class? What mitigations are truly in place to keep students safe?
The problems of keeping children safe once again fall on the teachers. It still doesn’t seem like schools are safe, especially in places where the Delta variant is surging in children and adults. Those who are the experts need to actually visit a variety of schools. Spend some time in them and learn the problems implementing mitigations.
This isn’t the time for photo ops in schools to make parents believe all is well. It’s time to go into schools with medical experts to see the problems teachers face with mitigations!
Wen, L. S. (2020, November 24). Most schools should close and stay closed through winter. The Washington Post, Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/24/close-schools-coronavirus-winter/?fbclid=IwAR01GY_jtBBxhZ3xIwVYcAYPQDKQBlqOLTmHhX3-lrXOaD-TdlExy6jmcM8#click=https://t.co/NDh0wz2VtR.