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Can Schools “Go Back to Normal” After COVID?: Here’s What We Know Now…

It’s official: we have now reached the first anniversary of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Most kids have not been able to return to school since Spring Break of 2020, and the kids who have are experiencing school in a completely different way. March 5th was when most K-12 schools in the United States shut their doors and did 100% virtual learning. Although the CDC left it up to the local government’s discretion, most schools became completely remote in late March. It was not until the fall classes of 2021 where we saw a mix of online and virtual learning (hybrid-model learning) occurring through many districts. 

Virtual and hybrid learning has left many students unable to maintain schoolwork, socialization with friends, and even access to food. Many schools have now re-started in-person learning, but with COVID vaccines not being readily available for people under 16, schools need to know  how to meet the CDC guidelines for in-person learning. This article will discuss current school policies, mask mandates, and the future of K-12 education.

Current COVID-19 School Policies in 2021

COVID restrictions and policies within the school system are constantly changing, with new policies emerging almost every week (check to see what your state’s current school COVID policies are). The four highly-discussed policies include; vaccinations, social distancing, masks, and health checks.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

At this moment, children under the age of 16 do not qualify for vaccinations. While tween and teenagers under the age of 16 are expected to be approved for vaccination by the 2021 fall semester, younger children have a longer wait time. Currently, vaccines are being trialed on a small sample of pediatric patients. Still, it could be months (or even years) for young kids to get the vaccine, with immunocompromised children being the priority.

Social Distancing & Masks

The CDC is encouraging schools to enforce social distancing to 6 feet at all times. Many schools have socially distanced their students’ desks and added dividers to contain the spread of airborne particles. Face masks have been enforced at a majority of in-person schools, where most children are not allowed to take them off for the whole school day. “[Face masks and social distancing] are incredibly important in areas that have high community spread of COVID-19, which right now is the vast majority of communities in the United States,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated in early February.

Sanitizing

Although schools did basic sanitizing practices pre-COVID, the CDC guidelines have doubled down on required sanitizing practices. K-12 schools are required to have sanitizing stations wherever possible. Cleaning areas of high traffic will not eliminate the germs, so teachers and school administrators must practice disinfecting. Disinfecting is the practice of clearing with chemicals designed to kill 99.9% of germs. Students should also wash their hands and use hand sanitizer throughout the day. To learn more about the differences between cleaning and disinfecting, you can read more on the CDC website.

Health Screenings

Just as a person would take temperature checks when making a doctor’s appointment, the same goes for students returning to school. If a child or a close family member has been sick with the following symptoms, parents must keep children home for at least three days or until a medical professional clears them:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What’s Going on With the Mask Mandates?

Since March of 2020, most states have required children over the age of 10 to wear masks while out in public. Many schools that started with in-person classes in the fall of 2020 also required all students over the age of two to wear a mask during school hours. With states like Texas, Mississippi, and Iowa lifting their mandates, schools have mounting pressure to adapt quickly. This has left many parents and administrators questioning if schools will still require masks until the vaccination. 

It seems that the best way to help students get face-to-face interaction with their peers and teachers is by wearing masks during school hours. Even in the states that have lifted their mask mandates, many local governments, businesses, and schools still require masks or face coverings. Here are some of the most common questions regarding masks and children:

Why are mask or facial coverings needed in schools?

At the beginning of the pandemic, scientists found that many people are asymptomatic (not showing signs of being ill). Face masks reduce the transmission rate in areas where you cannot guarantee social distancing, and they add a double layer of protection when proper social distancing is in place.

What is the best mask for a child?

Our team recommends our KN95 masks or our 3-Ply ASTM 1 masks. These are the most effective facial coverings to prevent the spread of airborne illnesses. Although the CDC approves reusable cloth masks and neck gaiters, we do not recommend using them as a standard facial covering.

A great rule of thumb for masks: to get the mask’s full protection, your child should wear a mask that covers from nose to chin.

Learn about if your state is lifting its mask mandate by checking out the CDC website.

What Does This Mean for Classes in the Future?

While no one can accurately predict the future for face-to-face learning in schools, our best bet is that the “normal” we knew pre-COVID has changed: we know that some schools plan to keep a form of hybrid learning for the foreseeable future. Education leaders will have a better understanding in the fall of 2021 when the first round of children under 16 are vaccinated. Still, in the meantime, we recommend staying up-to-date on the CDC’s PPE recommendations for schools

The CDC website lists the supplies needed to start in-person learning, including soap, a way to dry hands (e.g., paper towels, hand dryer), tissues, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer), disinfectant wipes, masks and no-touch trash cans.

If you are a school administrator, we would love to hear your thoughts on what has been discussed and your feedback on education during the pandemic. If you are interested in ensuring your kids, faculty, and teachers are safe, we provide subscription-style care packages designed perfectly for a school of any size. We would love to partner with you to continue keeping kids safe and help them succeed in school.