Kentucky Department for Public Health provides five reopening aspects for districts to consider

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Education Continuation Task Force: June 15, 2020 Virtual Meeting

  • These aspects will be included in DPH’s Healthy at School document, which will be released at a later date.
  • Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown, acknowledging that this next semester will be difficult, urged the education community to meet the public health experts halfway with the Healthy at School guidance.

By Jacob Perkins
Jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) joined in the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) June 15 Education Continuation Task Force meeting to provide five aspects for districts to consider as they plan for reopening schools in the fall.

For the 2020-2021 school year, DPH asked districts leaders to consider:

  • Social distancing;
  • Cloth face coverings;
  • Screening and temperature checks;
  • Hand and surface hygiene; and
  • Contact tracing.

These aspects will be included in DPH’s Healthy at School document, which will be released at a later date.

“There is no easy path for this, unfortunately,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack. “We want you to know that we share your frustration and will work with you as much as possible to find innovative ideas on how we can address this.”

Stack told the task force that there is no vaccine, cure or effective treatment for COVID-19 as of June 15. Therefore, it is critical for districts to implement these five concepts to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus within their local communities.

Social Distancing
According to DPH, up to 40% – or more – of the individuals who contract COVID-19 have no symptoms. These infected individuals will continue to spread the infection to others without knowing they have the virus. DPH recommends maintaining 6 feet of distance when possible.

Stack understands that this will be difficult to enforce, particularly with young children, but said it is an essential tool to use to mitigate the spread of the virus.

During the June 2 Special Superintendents’ Webcast, superintendents had asked DPH about the possibility of schools utilizing plexiglass as a barrier between students in the classroom. At the time, DPH Deputy Commissioner Dr. Connie White said she would have to do more research, but cited that cleaning the plexiglass could be an issue.

Martin Monson, interim principal at the Kentucky School for the Blind, raised the question again during the June 15 task force meeting and the DPH officials said they do not recommend using plexiglass in the classroom.

“My opinion would be that is not a pragmatic approach,” said Stack. “You simply can’t put everybody in a fishbowl in your classroom. I don’t think that that is realistic. I think you’re better off to try and have some distance – the 6 feet – if at all possible, between everybody.”

White added that it would be difficult to ensure that the plexiglass is cleaned thoroughly after each student sits at their desk and said there are other safety concerns, particularly with the barriers falling and potentially injuring a student.

DPH says that social distancing does not need to be enforced on school buses if students are wearing masks, are practicing proper hand hygiene and have had their temperature and symptoms checked.

Cloth Face Coverings
DPH recommends that schools require both faculty and students to wear masks when in the school building and when social distancing is not possible.

Since the coronavirus spreads by respiratory droplets, covering the nose and mouth is the way a person can prevent spreading the virus if they are not 6 feet away from others, according to DPH.

“If you have a single thing you can do to greatly reduce the risk of infection, it is to cover your face,” said Stack.

Stack added that cloth face coverings provide the barrier needed to diminish the spread of the virus and noted that surgical masks and N95 masks are not needed in schools except for certain nursing activities.

Nancy Hutchinson, chief executive officer of the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation, asked DPH officials if districts should consider masks a “non-negotiable” for the 2020-2021 school year.

“I wouldn’t use the word non-negotiable. Though I would say that it’s really essential whenever possible,” said Stack. “Obviously there are situations where it cannot happen. You can’t have kids running around a soccer field in 85-degree heat wearing a mask.

“There are times you just cannot do it and in those cases, you should not do it. You should not endanger someone to wear a mask. But, whenever possible, people should wear a mask.”

Several task force members suggested that adults within the school should “be an example” for students by wearing their masks during the day in the hopes that students will follow their lead.

State Sen. Reggie Thomas (Fayette) is a recent addition to the Education Continuation Task Force, along with State Rep. Tina Bojanowski (Louisville), State Rep. Regina Huff (chair of the House Education Committee) and State Sen. Max Wise (chair of the Senate Education Committee).

Thomas recommended that districts consider being more strict on faculty than students when it comes to wearing masks.

“I understand the flexibility in the requirement of masks for children. I think that will be practical and reasonable,” he said. “But I think we ought to have more stringent standards for wearing masks for faculty and staff because they are adults, they understand the risks and they can be held to a higher standard than children.”

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman added that it is important for the adults in the school to be positive role models for their students.

“One of the things that we have to make sure we always do as educators is never ask more of our students than we’re willing to give,” she said.

Screening and Temperature Checks
Although many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, more than 60% do have symptoms, according to DPH.

Stack said districts could have families screen for symptoms at home before entering school property.

“The key thing is, to try and come up with a way for the education community to screen people for symptoms of infection and also for fever,” said Stack. “If you find people with those things and have them stay outside of the school community, you will dramatically reduce the risk of spreading infection into the school.”

Stack said that when developing plans for reopening other sectors of the economy, DPH has required an employee’s temperature to be checked at least once every 24 hours.

He added that while there may be multiple ways to screen for symptoms, it may be best for them to be checked at home before students and staff head to school.

Hand and Surface Hygiene
DPH recommends frequent hand cleaning and sanitizing to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

“This is an infection overwhelmingly spread by the droplets going directly from one person to another, but not exclusively that,” explained Stack. “Our hands are the most common device that we use to touch our nose, our eyes and our face. … The single most important thing is to wash your hands a lot.”

Frequently cleaning of high-contact surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets also is an important step to reduce transmission of the virus. These surfaces include doorknobs, desks and telephones.

Contact Tracing
In a May 21 call with Kentucky’s 172 superintendents, Gov. Andy Beshear spoke of the importance of accurate and efficient contact tracing as a way to manage the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

The contact tracing program is an online tracking system that allows public health workers to record individual information of Kentuckians who have been exposed to COVID-19, conduct outreach and monitor wellness.

According to DPH, public health has used contact tracing for decades to identify individuals with a communicable illness, isolate them and quarantine others with high-risk exposure to the infected person to prevent disease spread.

DPH officials also recommend that when planning to prevent exposure of students and staff to COVID-19, districts should include preparing to assist contact tracers with their investigations.

“Contact tracing is important and we need your active participation in that,” said Stack. “It will be difficult because in the United States of America, talking to people on the phone about infection or illness is not something we routinely do. Yet, this is what we have to do to try to allow us to get back to normal activities.”

Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown, acknowledging that this next semester will be difficult, urged the education community to meet the public health experts halfway with the Healthy at School guidance since DPH has been both practical and flexible in response to feedback from KDE and districts.

“There will be difficult tasks ahead of us from the school community to implement some of these things, but every other school district in the country is trying to do the same thing,” said Brown. “We are going to be doing things that we have never been asked to do before. I’m confident we can do them.”

Previous coverage of the Education Continuation Task Force:

For more information about COVID-19:

12 COMMENTS

  1. I would like to make a suggestion in 1983 when I first started teaching we had 1/2 day sessions for Kdg. The first group of students would arrive at 7:30 on the bus and would eat breakfast and go home around 10:30. The second group would arrive around 10:30 have lunch and spend the rest of the day at school. You could do this for each grade level and you also could ability group this way. You could service the same about of students just in two different sessions. The classrooms would be smaller and less students on the buses.

  2. I think you should try to employee Temperatures taker on the bus and at school. Have one on every bus and entrance of the schools. Take the temperature before the enter the bus or the school. This is for student and employees. In order to keep your schools clean the budget it going have to allow more cleaning staff in the school. In order to keep the rail and bathroom clean. You may also need bathroom monitor to make sure of the washing of hands when leaving the bathroom. It may sound stupid but there are alot of adults. That do not wash their hands when they leave the bathroom, so can you imagine what the kids do.

  3. I’m concerned as a school bus driver, we get children sent on the bus who are sick. They throw up and we have to wait until we get to school for this to be cleaned up and that child to be removed from the bus. Happens all the time. Don’t know what the solution is but this is to dangerous to the other students. Please take into consideration, for the driver also!

  4. As a school nurse, you can never ever rely on the parent to check their child’s temperature prior to sending them to school. Most of them will medicate to mask a fever if the child has one. Some parents can’t afford to keep their child home from school because they may lose their job if they have to call in or may not get paid sick days or have anyone that can stay with the child so they can go to work. You also have to realize not every household has or can afford a working reliable thermometer. In some areas of my county it’s not unusual for students and their families to be living their cars or 10+ people living in one apartment. There are just too many obstacles to take in to consideration in order for students to attend school inside the school building. Another topic that needs to be thought about, as far as wearing masks goes, is what about the students who have a hearing impairment and rely on reading lips in order to learn? And has anyone been in an elementary classroom of students? It’s going to be impossible for teachers to get through a single lesson because their entire day is going to be consumed with making kids put their masks back on, washing their hands because they just used said hand as a tissue, or have their hands under their masks and in their mouths. It’s just too much to think about and risk.

  5. Temperatures should be checked by school personnel. We often get students who are sent to school with a temperature or given meds before they come to school in order to keep their temperature down.

  6. Why isn’t social distancing important on the bus? It seems to me that sitting 3 to a seat for a 45 minute bus ride is the recipe for disaster. It also strikes me that less care and protection is being considered for children who ride the bus. I hope the committee is aware that children of lower economic status are often bus riders. Affluent children are much less likely to ride a bus. This smacks of discrimination

  7. What countries are considering reopening and what precautions do I need to take for our twins who are at risk?

  8. Temperature should be checked when a student comes to school. Don’t rely on parents to do this. They send them to school all the time, knowing they are ill. This would even help with the spread of influenza.

  9. I don’t see how this will work!when school starts back every one knows kids start having strep, hand foot and mouth, sinus infections and the flu so with those symptoms you have a lot of coughing,sneezing and snot Also fever all in a mask. I see disaster…

  10. 6 feet between students. I will guess the KDE will not hire more teachers so this can be enforced by having smaller classroom sizes. As for masks – well that just eliminated any student with a hearing loss or deaf from being able to read the teacher’s lips. SUCK it disabled students – your ability to learn just went away. Maybe WiFi learning would be the best idea for these students with hearing problems who rely on lip reading to comprehend the spoken NOISE, not words as words are not understood without the lip reading ability – therefore it is truly the spoken noise. And for the WiFi part – will KDE supply high speed computers as well as free WiFi? Does all of Kentucky have access to WiFi- I believe definitely not all of KY does not have access to WiFi. What then can be done to provide WiFi where it is not currently offered in the area where the student resides?

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