The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which spread throughout China and to other countries of the world led to serious global changes. Different countries around the world began to implement measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, from national quarantines to school closures. However, as the curve has flattened as a result of widespread testing and contact tracing, a need to relax the lockdown and reopen many aspects of the economy including education were discussed by different health and leadership authorities while preventing the increase in infection rates as full-sized, in-person classes, activities, and events will likely lead to the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Extended school closure is harmful to children as it could lead to severe learning loss. Schools play a critical role in supporting the whole child, providing a stable and secure environment for developing social skills and peer relationships not just their academic achievement. The closing of schools disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which could have negative individual and societal ramifications. School-aged children in areas with low community transmission are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.
Public health experts have shown the epidemiological impact of releasing social distancing measures without necessarily having control measures in other places around the country. Greater emphasis has been placed on control practices using a localized approach. This further drives the need to establish necessary precautionary measures as we tend towards total school reopening.
The following steps should be taken to ensure the safe reopening of schools:
1. Parents and caregivers should be educated on the importance of monitoring children for the symptoms of COVID-19 at home and also educating everyone in the school community to practice preventive behaviors.
2. Maintaining healthy environments (e.g., cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, furniture, and fumigation of facilities).
3. Diligent temperature checks with non-contact thermometers at school entrances for all staff and students while preventing visitors from entering school premises.
4. Educate, implement, and reinforce multiple COVID-19 mitigation strategies (e.g., appropriate social distancing, use of face mask, hand hygiene, and use of cohorting technique for positive students).
5. Re-purpose unused or underutilized school spaces to increase classroom space, depopulate already existing crammed classes and facilitate social distancing, including outside spaces. This could also be achieved by further splitting the day into morning and afternoon shifts to reduce the number of children in a classroom.
By taking the above appropriate steps, it will be easier to prevent and control the spread of the disease while still allowing for the proper resumption of school activities.