On 11th May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO released additional guidelines to help decision-makers consider how and when to reopen schools and non-essential businesses.
Deciding to close, partially close or reopen schools should be guided by a risk-based approach to maximize the educational and health benefit for students, teachers, staff, and the wider community, and help prevent a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the community. WHO, UNICEF and IFRC have issued guidance on the prevention and control of COVID-19 in schools. Factors to consider in a general health risk assessment include epidemiological factors, health system and public health capacities, community engagement and government capacity to sustain social and economic support to the most vulnerable. In a recent framework for reopening schools, partners highlight six key dimensions to consider when planning: policy, financing, safe operations, learning, reaching the most marginalized and wellbeing/protection.
National authorities can facilitate a risk-based approach at the local level by offering standard operating procedures or checklists for schools, based on local epidemiology and conditions.
Decision-makers should consider the following when deciding on whether to open or close schools:
- Current understanding about COVID-19 transmission and severity in children
- Local situation and epidemiology of COVID-19 where the school(s) are located
- School setting and ability to maintain COVID-19 prevention and control measures
Additional factors to consider in deciding how or when to partially close or reopen schools include assessing what harm might occur due to school closure (e.g. risk of non-return to school, widening disparity in educational attainment, limited access to meals, domestic violence aggravated by economic uncertainties etc.), and the need to maintain schools at least partially open for children whose caregivers are ‘key workers’ for the country.
Recommended measures for school reopening
The following strategies and adaptations should be in place wherever possible:
- Educate everyone in the school about COVID-19 prevention; this includes appropriate and frequent hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, mask use if mandated, symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if you feel Non-contact greetings should also be advised. Offer weekly updates on these as the pandemic evolves.
- Create a schedule for frequent hand hygiene, especially for young children, and provide sufficient alcohol-based rub or soap and clean water at school entrances and throughout the
- Schedule regular cleaning of the school environment daily, including toilets, with water and soap/detergent and disinfectant1. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, desks, toys, supplies, light switches, doorframes, play equipment, teaching aids used by children, and covers of
- Assess what can be done to limit risk of exposure, or direct physical contact, in physical education classes, sports or other physical activities and play in playgrounds, wet areas and changing
- Increase frequency of cleaning in gym and sports facilities and changing rooms, provide hand hygiene stations at entrances and exits, establish one-way circulation of athletes through the facilities and limit the number of persons allowed in the locker room at one
- Put in place respiratory and hand hygiene and physical distancing measures in transportation such as school buses, and tips for students on safe commute to and from school, including those using public transport. Only 1 child per seat and at least 1 metre apart in school buses, if possible. This may lead to a need to increase the number of school buses per school. If possible, windows of the bus should be kept open.
- Develop a school policy on wearing a mask or a face covering in line with national or local guidance. If a child or school staff is sick, she/he should not come to school. Provide sufficient medical masks for those who need it, such as school nurses and children with
- Enforce the policy of “staying at home if unwell” for students, teachers or school staff with If possible, connect with local organizations to provide home care support and ensure communication between home and school.
- Create a checklist for parents/students /staff to decide whether students /staff can go to school, and with due consideration for the local epidemiology of COVID-19. The checklist could include:
- underlying medical conditions and vulnerabilities, to protect the student/staff;
- recent illness or symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, to prevent spread to others;
- special circumstances in the home environment, to tailor support as needed;
- special considerations regarding school transport as
- Waive the requirement for a doctor’s note to excuse absences when there is community transmission of COVID-19.
- Consider daily screening for body temperature, and history of fever or feeling feverish in the previous 24 hours, on entry into the building for all staff, students and visitors to identify persons who are
- Ensure students who have been in contact with a COVID-19 case stay home for 14 The school officials should notify public health authorities in case of a positive COVID-19 case.
- Establish procedures for students or staff who have symptoms of COVID-19 or are feeling unwell in any way to be sent home or isolated from
- Inform parents about the measures the school is putting in place and ask for cooperation to report any cases of COVID-19 that occur in the If someone in the household is suspected to have COVID-19, keep the child home and inform the school.
- Explain to the students the reason for school-related measures, including discussing the scientific considerations and highlighting the help they can get through schools (e.g. psychosocial support).
- Ensure that school entry immunization checks are in place. Check vaccination status for outbreak-prone vaccine- preventable diseases (e.g. measles) and remind parents of the importance of ensuring their children are up to date with all eligible For school-based immunization programmes, ensure there a plan for catch-up vaccination if needed.
- Boarding schools and other specialized institutions will need to extend these considerations to residential facilities, lecture halls, laboratories and other learning facilities for the all-round benefit and safety of students and
- Maintain a distance of at least 1 metre2 between everyone present at school
- Increase desk spacing (at least 1 metre between desks), stagger recesses/breaks and lunchbreaks (if difficult, one alternative is to have lunch at desk)
- Limit mixing of classes for school and after-school activities. For example, students in a class will stay in one classroom throughout the day, while teachers move between classrooms; or classes could use different entrances, if available, or establish an order for each class to enter and leave the building/classroom
- Expand high-school timetable, with some students and teachers attending in the morning, others in the afternoon, others in the evening
- Consider increasing the number of teachers, if possible, to allow for fewer students per classroom (if space is available)
- Advise against crowding during school pick-up or day care, and if possible avoid pick up by older family or community members (e.g. grandparents)
- Minimize shared break times, i.e. alternate when and where classes take lunch
- Discuss how to manage physical education and sports lessons
- Move lessons outdoors or ventilate rooms as much as possible
- Create awareness to ensure the students do not gather and socialize when leaving the school and in their free time