The Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on Tuesday on how schools should reopen in the fall.
The guidance comes as classes, most of which have gone online amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, wrap up for the school year. Like the plan to reopen the economy, the CDC suggests that schools open in steps.
The first step has schools closed. This is where we've been for the past two months. In step two, only students who live in the local geographic area of the school return. Step three increases that area to allow more students back.
The CDC divides the risk of reopening into three categories: low, more and highest. Low risk is limited to virtual-only activities. More risk includes small, in-person classes where students stay grouped together and 6 feet apart. The highest risk looks more like classrooms pre-pandemic -- full-sized, in-person and with no spacing.
Like with any other illness, the CDC recommends sick students and school employees to stay at home. Those who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms while at school should be moved to an isolation room. Areas used by a sick person should be closed off until after they are cleaned and disinfected. The CDC recommends this not happen until 24 hours after the building closes which means some schools could close down for at least two days.
Once the students do return, the CDC recommends teaching proper hygiene.
The CDC encourages staff members and older students to wear masks or face coverings. The agency acknowledges face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear all day and does not recommend them for children younger than 2.
Cleaning, disinfecting and ventilation should be intensified with high-touch areas disinfected at least once per day. Ventilation helps by allowing more outside air into the school.
Inside the classroom, the CDC says desks should be spaced 6-feet apart if possible and tables should all face in the same direction with students only sitting on one side, not face-to-face. Students should also not share items.
The CDC suggests that the same staff remain with the same group of students for the duration of school days to restrict mixing of different students. This will help to better contain the virus if a student happens to get sick.
Playground equipment should be closed if possible or use should be staggered and the equipment cleaned and disinfected in between uses.
Students are encouraged to bring their own lunches and eat in classrooms instead of the cafeteria. Food that is provided by the school should be pre-packaged in boxes or bags. Buffet-style is discouraged.
As for transportation, the CDC says arrival and drop-off times or locations should be staggered by cohort or other protocols should be used to limit contact between cohorts and direct contact with parents as much as possible.
You can read a full list of the CDC's recommendations here, which it calls "ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19."