Children’s Colorado released a new guide and Charting Pediatrics podcast designed to help school administrators and board members determine how they can most safely reopen their schools for in-person learning this fall in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide, provides considerations and recommendations based on the most current COVID-19 medical guidelines. Children’s Colorado infectious diseases experts who have helped lead the response to COVID-19 helped construct the recommendations, including Sam Dominguez, MD, PhD, Chris Nyquist, MD, MPH/MSPH and Sean O’Leary, MD.
Schools face uncertainty without expert guidance
“Schools have not faced such a significant health issue as COVID-19, at least not in contemporary history, and many rural districts do not have public health experts on staff to provide medical guidance,” said Heidi Baskfield, vice president of Population Health and Advocacy at Children’s Colorado. “Our goal is to give schools the information and recommendations they need to make the right decision for their communities about when and how to reopen for in-person learning.”
Children’s Colorado School Town Halls provide pediatric pandemic updates
In addition, Children’s Colorado medical experts are now leading regular School Town Halls to provide real-time data, support and evidence-based pediatric-focused guidance on managing kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. Children’s Colorado has a robust School Health team that provides school nurses and health services in seven Colorado school districts, 34 charter schools, 16 private schools and 100 preschools and camps.
“Making decisions about how to safely return to in-person learning is incredibly challenging during this pandemic, in both urban and more rural districts across Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region,” said Dr. Dominguez. “We know all school districts take the health and safety of their students and staff seriously, and we’re happy to share our pediatric expertise and offer up-to-date guidance as COVID trends shift.”
Experts also shared insights via a podcast
The hospital offers further insight on returning to schools in a Charting Pediatrics podcast titled COVID-19 School Re-Entry Guidance with Sean O'Leary, MD and Heidi Baskfield, JD (S3:E59). Charting Pediatrics is a weekly podcast for pediatric providers with more than 50,000 monthly listeners from 122 countries.
Guide focuses on three-tiered risk mitigation
The Children’s Colorado guide focuses on three tiers of risk mitigation practices that, if consistently used, can support large-scale, in-person learning in school settings:
- Tier 1: Risk mitigation practices that are the most effective at reducing the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission among students and staff. Those practices include frequent hand washing, practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings and ensuring current vaccinations. Those are widely regarded as commonsense practices, and they do not require a significant financial investment by schools, which is particularly important as schools have seen their funding slashed due to the economic slowdown associated with the pandemic.
- Tier 2: Risk mitigation practices that have the ability to further reduce the transmission of COVID-19 when used in tandem with the Tier 1 practices. The Tier 2 actions include screening students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms, quickly isolating students and staff who exhibit signs of illness, using a pod system of education that groups students and staff into a single, isolated group, and eliminating the need for students and staff to touch common surfaces.
- Tier 3: Risk mitigation practices that, while not core to a school’s re-opening, are important practices to incorporate. These include conducting enhanced cleanings, being aware of and working to manage airflow, and education efforts for students and their families, as well as staff.
Children’s Colorado recognizes that most school districts are under enormous budget pressures given the recent state funding cuts due to the economic slowdown associated with the pandemic. As a result, the risk mitigation practices have been developed to yield the greatest impacts for the least amount of cost possible.
“Shutting schools down has had a negative effect on students, impacting everything from brain development to mental health and wellness to food security,” Baskfield said. “Our guidance is intended to help school districts make safe and sensible decisions to maintain student and community safety as schools return to critical in-person learning as soon as possible.”
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