Current Issues for Safe Schools
As attention shifts from taking the most immediate, short-term steps to re-open, to the long-term issues of being able to stay open, there are a number of mitigation strategies and issues that come into focus. In this weekly report, we address those issues, highlight recommendations and suggestions from the CDC, the US Department of Education, and other leading authorities.
Strategies to Control COVID-19 Exposure in K-12 School Staff
May 25, 2021
The information in this discussion provides an expanded focus on the health and safety of K-12 school staff. These strategies also provide workplace safety and health information for administrators related to protecting teachers, substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, janitorial/maintenance staff, office staff, school nutrition staff, school nurses/health professionals, school bus drivers, and bus aides, coaching staff, and athletic trainers, and music, choir, and performing arts teachers.
Infection prevention recommendations for staff and students are based on an approach known as the hierarchy of controls. This approach groups actions by their effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. In most cases, the preferred approach is for management to:
- Reduce the risk of COVID-19 by having teachers, staff, and students stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19. Monitor COVID-19 transmission rates in the immediate community and in the communities in which students, teachers, and staff live. Work collaboratively with local health officials to determine if temporary school closure is necessary.
- Install engineering controls, including modifying work areas using physical barriers, incorporating required accessibility requirements, and improving ventilation, where feasible.
- Establish administrative controls and safe work practices for all staff to follow, which include appropriate cleaning and disinfection practices and appropriate mask policies.
- Provide PPE in accordance with the school administrator’s worksite hazard assessment to protect staff from hazards not controlled by engineering and administrative controls alone (e.g., school health staff, janitorial and maintenance staff).
Reducing the Risks of COVID-19 in K-12 School Worksites
Screening K-12 School Staff for COVID-19
Given the wide range of symptoms and the fact that some people with COVID-19 are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, there are limitations to symptom screening for the identification of COVID-19. While the CDC does not currently recommend that schools conduct universal in-person symptom screenings, temperature kiosk screening has proven extremely effective in transmission reduction in schools. Refer to Screening K-12 Students for Symptoms of COVID-19: Limitations and Considerations for more information on screening students. Information about screening employees can be found on the CDC General Business Frequently Asked Questions page.
Testing of K-12 School Staff
CDC’s Interim Considerations for K-12 School Administrators for SARS-CoV-2 Testing advises that schools should determine, in collaboration with local health officials, whether to implement any testing strategy and, if so, how to best do so. School administrators are encouraged to review SARS-CoV-2 Testing Strategy: Considerations for Non-Healthcare Workplaces when considering testing of all school employees.
Managing Sick Staff
When school staff or students report or have symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat) upon arrival at work or become sick during the day, school administrators should:
- Immediately separate the person(s) from others at the school. Individuals who are sick should immediately go home or to a healthcare facility depending on how severe their symptoms are, and follow CDC guidance for caring for oneself and others who are sick.
- Actively encourage staff and students who are sick, or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19, to get tested and stay home.
- Develop policies that encourage sick staff to stay at home but without fear of retaliation, and ensure employees are aware of these policies.
- Identify an isolation area to separate anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms and potential exposure, ideally with a dedicated restroom not used by others. Note: Considerations for screening and management of symptoms for adults may be different than those for K-12 students. Additional considerations related to screening teachers and staff can be found on the General Business FAQ page.
- Ensure that personnel managing sick employees or students are appropriately protected from exposure. See What Healthcare Personnel Should Know About Caring for Patients with Confirmed or Possible COVID-19 Infection.
- Only designated, trained staff should interact with people showing symptoms of COVID-19. At least one designated, trained staff member should be available at all times in case there is a need to isolate a symptomatic employee or student.
- When providing care for anyone with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, personnel who need to be within 6 feet of a sick colleague or student should be provided appropriate PPE (including gloves, a gown, a face shield or goggles, and an N95 or equivalent or higher-level respirator or a surgical facemask if a respirator is not available), and follow Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions.
- If respirators are needed, they must be used in the context of a comprehensive respiratory protection program that includes medical exams, fit testing, and training in accordance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134external icon).
- If the district has health and safety professional/s, work with them to establish a respiratory protection program; if not, professional organizations, such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), maintain lists of health and safety consultants across the U.S. who may be able to assist with implementing a respiratory protection program.
- The OSHA Respiratory Protection website provides links to a variety of guidance documents, web pages, and online tools related to respiratory protection.
- On-site healthcare services staff, including school nurses, should follow appropriate CDC and OSHA guidance for healthcare and emergency response personnel. For additional information, refer to the Special Considerations – School nurses/health professionals' section.
- Have a procedure in place for the safe and accessible transport of an employee who becomes sick while at work. The employee may need to be transported home or to a healthcare provider.
- If a school staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19, contact the local public health authorities about contact tracing.
- Maintain the sick employee’s confidentiality, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other applicable federal and state laws. Instruct fellow staff about how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.
- If a school staff member becomes or reports being sick, clean and disinfect the work area and any shared common areas (including restrooms) and any supplies, tools, or equipment handled by that staff member.
- Work with local health officials to facilitate the identification of other exposed and potentially exposed individuals, such as coworkers or students, in the school.
- Students, teachers, and staff who test positive or had close contact with an individual who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 should be provided with guidance for when it is safe to discontinue self-isolation or end quarantine.