Utah Releases New COVID-19 Guidelines For Schools
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Department of Health on Thursday released new guidelines for schools as the coronavirus pandemic continues into August.
The new guidelines cover topics from recognizing COVID-19 in students to what schools should do if a student or teacher tests positive.
“The goal of the Utah Department of Health and Utah’s 13 local health departments is to provide a safe learning environment for students and a safe workplace for teachers and employees,” according to the manual.
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“Everybody wants to open up the school system,” said Gov. Gary Herbert in a weekly briefing Thursday. “Everybody wants to go back to what we used to call normal, but the question is how?”
The governor expects Utah school districts will use the manual as a guide despite openings that will vary greatly in terms of in-person and remote learning.
“Depending on the situation they find themselves in, I trust the local school board and the local superintendents to make the decisions in the best interests of the people in that region and their students,” said Herbert.
The state health department put the guide together in collaboration with local health departments and school leaders to spell out some of the standard expectations statewide.
The governor, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and Sydney Dickson, state superintendent of public education, talked about the manual Thursday in a weekly briefing.
COVID-19 spreads very easily and quickly. The manual points out, even if a school is doing everything right, it may see cases.
“We also describe what will happen in the public health response when a case is identified in the school,” said Dunn.
UDOH officials noted schools are an essential part of the well-being of communities, and children benefit greatly from in-person learning. They also provide counseling and health services to children who might not have access to those benefits outside of school.
It also details how health departments will respond in the event a student, teacher or employee tests positive for COVID-19, including protecting the privacy of those with the virus and alerting the appropriate people if a positive case is reported.
“In-person instruction allows teachers and students to communicate better,” according to the guidelines. “It also provides students with critical academic services which are not always available or accessible if students are not in school.”
The new manual puts an extra emphasis on the prevention of COVID-19, and it specifies that students should tell their parents or teacher if they have symptoms, stay away from school if they’re sick, isolate if they test positive, and follow quarantine guidance if they are exposed to someone who’s tested positive.
“We have the opportunity to start school with case counts decreasing, and being more in control,” said Dunn. “To do this, we need everybody to continue wearing face masks in public, practicing physical distancing, staying home when you’re ill, and using good hand hygiene.”
The state is asking parents to check their children’s temperatures every day before school and keep their children home if they have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. Those who don’t have access to a thermometer should check their child’s skin to see if it feels warm or is red. Or they can ask their child if he or she has chills or is sweaty.
Parents are also asked to alert the school if their children have any health conditions that put them at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Teachers, too, are asked to follow all the guidelines UDOH has laid out for students and parents. They’re also asked to understand privacy laws and how those laws relate to any information the school is given by the health department.
In addition, teachers are asked to prepare curriculum plans in case they have to isolate or quarantine.
If A Positive Case Is Reported
“We also describe what will happen in the public health response when a case is identified in the school,” said Dr. Dunn.
The manual details a standardized approach for case investigations and outbreaks.
“Some students may get sick when they are at school,” according to the guidelines. “Schools should isolate students who get symptoms of COVID-19 from other students, teachers, and employees. Work with your school nurse to designate the areas you will need to respond appropriately to sick students in your school.”
If there are three cases in one classroom, the health department will recommend that class go virtual for two weeks.
If there are 15 cases at one time in a single school, or 10% of the school is infected with COVID-19, the entire school will be recommended to go virtual for two weeks.
“I think it’s something that will be very usable for our families,” said Sydnee Dickson, State Superintendent of Public Education. “It’s not just intended for school personnel, but for our parents and students as well. So, they know exactly what to expect.”
“This is going to be a dynamic process moving forward,” said Dunn. “It’s new for all of us so we do remain open and flexible to change our strategy as we learn more.”
Schools are asked to consider having three separate areas for students if possible – a sick area for students who get sick or hurt at school but don’t have COVID-19 symptoms; a well student area for students with scheduled medical needs like insulin or other medications; and an isolation area for students who have symptoms of COVID-19.
Students who have symptoms should be separated from other students, teachers and employees to that third area.
The student’s parents will be called and they’ll be asked to come pick the student up right away. If the student’s parents are unable to come to the school and the child has to ride the bus, then everyone on the bus should wear a mask and physical distance.
Any rooms the student was in for 15 minutes or longer should be cleaned following specific guidelines outlined in the manual.
Schools will decide which personal protective equipment employees who interact with students should wear.
Any student, teacher or employee who tests positive should isolate immediately, according to UDOH.
“People who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 are at an increased risk of getting infected and infecting others,” according to the manual. “Close contact means someone was closer than 6 feet or 2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) to a person who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer.”
Schools will have a point of contact person who will work with the health department on contact tracing.
That person will provide the department of health with a list of employees, teachers and students who are at high risk of severe illness, and the health department will then contact those people and the students’ parents if there’s a positive case in the school.
The point of contact person will notify any other people who may have been exposed to a positive case while at school.
“Only students, teachers, or employees who came into close contact with the person who tested positive will be notified of a possible exposure,” according to UDOH.
Anyone at school who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate until the symptoms are gone and that person has been fever-free for 24 hours without medicine and it has been at least 10 days since that person first tested positive or first showed symptoms.
Students, teachers and employees will not need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to school, according to the manual.
“Studies show people may test positive long after they are infectious (sometimes more than 45 days after),” the guidelines state. “This means a person who at one time was sick with COVID-19 could still test positive, even though he or she can’t spread the virus to other people anymore.”
School employees are advised not to ask for doctor’s notes or COVID-19 tests to prove they are sick.
Keeping Schools Open
“In most cases, schools do not need to close for in-person learning” if a student, teacher or employee tests positive, according to UDOH. “Schools may consider hybrid or remote learning options to protect students, teachers, and employees. … Only when the school can’t provide a safe learning environment will the school need to consider temporary remote learning or closure.”
For example, if there’s an outbreak at a school and too many students, teachers or employees are too sick to provide necessary services, only then should a school should close.
Schools are asked to prepare by improving ventilation and using approved disinfectants to clean hard surfaces often. Employees are also asked to use disposable disinfecting wipes so they can wipe down surfaces that are touched often before they use them. These surfaces include doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks, and other tools and equipment.
The guidelines go into detail about how and when to clean different types of surfaces.
Read the new COVID-19 school guidelines here:
COVID-19 School Manual
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