The decision to reopen schools came after months of deliberation and careful preparation between the FL Department of Health and district officials who mandated doors could only open after county-wide infection rates decreased.
In late July and early August, families were given the option of virtual learning, or returning to physical schools. Despite the pandemic, continuing education is crucial so students can advance to the next level. For some, sending children back to school enabled access to essential services, including nutrition. Reopening school doors also ensured parents could return to work.
In Pinellas County, teachers and students follow CDC guidance, implementing precautions such as mandatory mask requirements, updated cafeteria guidelines, and cleaning protocols. In addition, Pinellas County visitors and employees must complete a self-screening tool confirming their wellness each day prior to entering any school building. Parents are encouraged to do the same for their children.
CDC precautions greatly minimize risk, but do not absolve it entirely. Nearly 700 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Tampa Bay schools since the beginning of the school year.
Children under age 18 represent 8.5% of all national cases, with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups. Although the disease generally presents as mild in children, critical illness has occurred, and risk is exacerbated for those with pre-existing medical conditions. Those exposed to the virus can act as a carrier, spreading COVID-19 to others. According to Dr. Allison Messina, chair of the division of Infectious Disease with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, pediatric transmission to other students is a lot lower than transmission to teachers and staff, as 50% of children are asymptomatic carriers.
The time between exposure to COVID-19 and when symptoms appear is generally 5 to 6 days, but ranges from 1 day to two weeks.
It is essential that families, teachers, administrators, and the community at large unite in following best practices. Engagement or disengagement will be reflected in how widespread, or contained, the virus will be in schools.
Students who have been tested for COVID-19 with pending test results should remain quarantined, as should the other members of the household, until a negative result is received.
“In order to keep the infection rates at a minimum, please adhere to the recommended guidelines. It takes a village. Contact the Department of Health if in doubt,” shares Delquanda Turner-Smith of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.
- Wear a mask. Review special precautions about masks for children under age 5.
- Maintain social distancing to avoid unnecessary exposure. Exposure is defined as being in proximity of 6’ or closer, for 15 minutes or longer; a guideline set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stay home if you feel ill, experience a fever above 100.4 degrees, live with someone who has COVID-19, or are waiting for the results of your COVID test.
- Teach and model good hygiene practices for your children:
- Wash your hands with soap and safe water frequently, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Always wash hands with soap and water, if hands are visibly dirty.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow and avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth and nose.
- Coordinate with the school to receive information and ask how you can support school safety efforts.
- Encourage your children to ask questions and express their feelings with you and their teachers. Remember that your child may have different reactions to stress; be patient and understanding.
- When in doubt about whether your student, or members of a household should come to school, review the Coronavirus Decision Tree provided by the Florida Department of Education.