As we reopen school buildings, there is seemingly ever-changing guidance on process and safety protocols. This makes it sometimes challenging to answer the question that we all want to know: “Is it safe?”
Many of the schools in our state have safely re-opened buildings in a hybrid model and intend to expand that re-opening before the end of this school year. But to do so safely, schools must continue to implement and enforce mitigation strategies and be vigilant in doing so—even as vaccination numbers increase.
The universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing must be prioritized. Per the governor’s February executive order, masking is mandatory in our schools for anyone over the age of five unless they have a medical reason not to wear a mask. You may have seen that in March the CDC amended its guidance on physical distancing, but the approach was more nuanced than reported. While it changed social distancing from 6’ to 3’ in some cases, the guidance continues to encourage social distancing to the greatest extent possible.
Here is the CDC’s current recommendation for distancing between students:
• Elementary school—At least 3’ apart
• Middle/high school—At least 3’ apart in areas of low, moderate, or substantial community transmission; 6’ apart in areas of high community transmission, if cohorting is not possible. Cohorting is grouping students to remain together throughout the entire school day.
Among adults, where transmission appears more common than between students and staff or among students, the CDC guidelines are to maintain 6’ of distance from other adults and students. When masks cannot be worn, such as while eating, singing, shouting, playing instruments, or playing sports, 6’ should be practiced.
We aren’t quite back to normal yet, but we’re getting there.