On Thursday, August 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidance for K-12 and early care and education (ECE) programs. The CDC states “the updated guidelines are based on COVID-19 community levels and can help K-12 schools and ECE programs remain open and help their administrators support safe, in-person learning while reducing the spread of COVID-19″. The guidance also includes updated “Strategies for Everyday Operations” to help schools prevent the spread of COVID-19 at all community levels. The CDC provided a detailed report of its updated guidance. Below are key areas of interest to NAfME members:
Prevention Strategies Associated with ALL COVID-19 Community Levels
Staying Up to Date on Vaccinations
In their latest guidance, the CDC states “Schools, ECE programs, and health departments should promote equitable access to vaccination. COVID-19 vaccination helps protect eligible people from getting severely ill with COVID-19. For COVID-19, staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations is the leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease. Not only does it (COVID-19 vaccinations) provide individual-level protection, but high vaccination coverage reduces the burden of COVID-19 on people, schools, healthcare systems, and communities.”
Staying Home When Sick
People who have symptoms of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections should stay home and test for COVID-19. Staying home when sick, even if the symptoms are mild, can lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. Testing is recommended as soon as possible for those displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
To allow for sick individuals to stay home, schools and ECE programs should allow flexible, non-punitive, and supportive paid sick leave policies. Those policies should allow employees to stay home to take care of sick family members and encourage employees to stay home without fear of “loss of pay, loss of employment, or other negative consequences.” Schools and ECE should make these policies widely available and avoid language that penalizes or stigmatizes sick employees staying home.
Schools can use funds provided by ESSER, GEER, Head Start, and Child Care ARP programs to optimize ventilation in their buildings that would improve indoor air quality and reduce the risk of germs and contaminants spreading.
When COVID-19 community levels increase or there is an outbreak, schools and ECE programs can take additional steps to increase air flow and improve air filtration, including opening windows and doors and using portable air cleaners in classrooms. When COVID-19 community levels are high, schools and ECE programs should consider holding some activities outside, when possible.
Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette
Hand washing and respiratory etiquette are low-cost high-reward methods of preventing the spread of illness in communities. Schools and ECE programs should teach and reinforce proper handwashing techniques and respiratory etiquette, and should provide adequate handwashing supplies, including soap and water. If washing hands is not possible, schools and ECE programs should provide hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Schools and ECE programs should clean surfaces at least once a day to reduce the risk of germs spreading by touching surfaces.
Prevention Strategies Associated with Medium or High COVID-19 Community Levels
When COVID-19 community levels increase, particularly when the level is high or a school or ECE program experiences an outbreak, implementing layered prevention strategies should be considered in order to maintain low-risk, in-person learning. The CDC recommends the following strategies to be implemented at high community levels, but also states that schools should consider adding layered strategies when community levels reach medium.
Wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator has been shown to reduce the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. In their latest guidance the CDC states “at a high COVID-19 Community Level, universal indoor masking in schools and ECE programs is recommended, as it is in the community at-large. CDC also recommends masking at all times in healthcare settings, including school nurses’ offices, regardless of the current COVID-19 Community Level”.
Schools and ECE programs should support anyone who decides to wear a mask or respirator, regardless of current COVID-19 community levels. Schools and ECE programs should strongly consider flexible, non-punitive practices to support individuals who choose to wear masks, regardless of current COVID-19 community levels.
Schools and ECE programs can offer testing to staff and students with symptoms of COVID-19 or who were exposed to COVID-19, or refer them to a healthcare provider, community testing site, or at home test kit.
Management of Cases and Exposure
Students or staff who come to school or an ECE program with COVID-19 symptoms, or who develop symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, should be asked to wear a well-fitting mask while in the school building, and be sent home and encouraged to get tested, if a test is unavailable at school.
Schools and ECEs should ensure that people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 isolate away from others and do not return to school until they have completed isolation. Once isolation has ended, people should continue wearing a mask around others through day 10. If a person with COVID-19 has been inside a school or ECE facility within 24 hours, the space should be cleaned and disinfected.
The CDC provided their latest guidance for exposure to COVID-19 in schools and ECE settings. “Quarantine is no longer recommended for people who are exposed to COVID-19 except in certain high-risk congregate settings. In schools and ECE settings, which are generally not considered high-risk congregate settings, people who were exposed to COVID-19 should follow recommendations to wear a well-fitting mask and get tested.”
Quarantine is a key component to Test to Stay programs. Because quarantine is no longer recommended for those exposed to COVID-19 in school and ECE settings, Test to Stay (TTS) is no longer needed. If any school or ECE program chooses to continue requiring quarantine, they may also choose to continue TTS.
Consideration for “High-Risk Activities”
The CDC maintains its stance surrounding what it has deemed to be “high-risk activities. ”The CDC defines high-risk activities as “activities that entail increased exhalation,” including close contact and indoor sports, band, choir, theatre, and other school clubs that meet indoors and entail increased exhalation. When COVID-19 community levels are high, schools and ECE programs can consider implementing screening testing for “high-risk activities.” Schools and ECE programs may also consider stopping these activities during periods of high COVID-19 community levels.
August 15, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)