By Samuetta Hill Drew
Openings at various school districts, colleges/universities and childcare programs have expanded in Alabama and beyond with even more expected in the month of August. Since schools are opening during a new wave of the COVID-19 Delta variant sweeping through the country, especially in the South, what are some options available to schools to help keep students and staff safe? Below are some recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as other educational sources.
Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the spread of the COVID-19 virus, thus ending the pandemic. Strong confidence in COVID-19 vaccines within communities has led to a higher percentage of fully vaccinated people ages 12 years and older.
The higher vaccination rate in some regions of the country have resulted in fewer COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. The data is showing the southern region of the country is experiencing a faster growing rate of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths because it has some of the lowest statewide percentages of fully vaccinated people.
So, what are schools to do? Several school districts are choosing to host vaccination clinics at their schools for individuals 12 years of age and older or at select schools within their district. Some districts have even decided to offer cash incentives for students and staff who receive the vaccine shot to help increase their district’s vaccination rate.
COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect people, including children and staff, who are not fully vaccinated, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels. It is important school districts and schools foster a transparent, two-way communication about the benefits, safety, side effects and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 health disparities should also be discussed. It is essential they help parents and students find credible vaccine information. The Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO), local churches or other civic community organizations could help assist the schools with this endeavor.
Schools serving children under 12 years of age who are presently not eligible for vaccination should have several protective measures in place. They should emphasize the importance of washing hands regularly, practice social distancing, use a safe form to increase classroom/school ventilation (refer to the two former articles), as well as making sure administrators, teachers and staff wear their masks throughout the school day.
A daily short discussion should be had with the students at the beginning of each class day. It should be fun with a serious message. The brief discussion should be something students can embrace and remember no matter the age. It can be done in the form of a song, jingle, art contest, skit, poem, or writing a classroom story book, etc. The objective is to get the message across about the importance of practicing strong preventive COVID-19 safety measures (at home and school) without scaring the students. This is also not the time to share individual political, social and/or religious beliefs.
Be honest and upfront with your parents and staff about any COVID-19 outbreaks among students and/or staff at your school or school district. The community, parents, staff, and students should believe you have their best interest in mind. Keeping them aware of any school COVID-19 outbreaks is one critical aspect to helping them Keep an Eye on Safety for themselves, their families, and their community. Some school districts such as Birmingham City Schools have chosen to provide a weekly COVID-19 update.