How Can the Spread of Infection Be Prevented in Schools?

A July New York Times article reported that when schools open up again, most will have at least one student or staff member infected with COVID-19. The numbers are striking: if infection numbers continued like they had in July, 80% of students would return to schools (of at least 500 students) where one person was infected with the disease. This likelihood is more significant in counties with high community spread (the condition where residents don’t know when and from whom they contracted the disease). The crucial question, then, is this: if one student, faculty, or staff member with COVID-19 comes to campus, how likely is it that they’ll infect others? The answer hinges on how much administrators change daily operations at the school. If you only make a few changes, infection risk is high. However, if you implement some or all of the following strategies, you can help stop the spread of illness on your campus.

Encourage social distancing, especially inside buildings.

One of the best methods for stopping the spread of illness is keeping students socially distanced (at least six feet) from each other at all times. This almost always means that you can’t have as many students in classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, and other spaces as on your pre-pandemic campus.

Install physical barriers in classrooms and use outdoor spaces.

In addition to social distancing, many classrooms around the world have used physical barriers, like plastic shields, for stopping the spread of illness. The idea is that if students can’t breathe on one another, then they can’t transmit COVID-19.

Furthermore, COVID-19 is much less likely to be transmitted in outdoor spaces than indoor ones. So, for as long as you can, aim to use outdoor areas like fields, grounds, and tracks for lessons.

Stagger attendance schedules.

Social distancing, physical barriers, and outdoor classroom spaces typically mean that you can’t have many students present on campus. These changes often require staggering attendance, where only some students attend classes for part of the day or on certain days.

How can you manage such complicated scheduling?

ScholarChip’s One Card and Secure Door Access portals can help. At the beginning of the year, each student is assigned a One Card, a physical card encrypted with their own unique ID number. They’ll use the card to scan themselves into the main campus buildings and classrooms. These cards simplify attendance tracking for teachers and administrators and ensure that students leave campus at their assigned times.

Require students to wear masks while indoors and wash their hands regularly.

Internationally, one of the best practices has been to have students wear masks while indoors. Students in Asia have long worn masks during periods of illness, like flu season, so these changes are not as cumbersome for them. In the United States, students may need more reminders. For instance, students should be encouraged to bring and use cloth masks, though disposable medical masks should also be available if they forget.

One of the best ways of stopping the spread of disease is also the simplest: having students wash their hands multiple times a day. Many schools are setting up additional handwashing stations and teaching students more effective practices for keeping clean.

Model good habits and remind students to continue practicing social distancing.

Wearing a mask, staying away from friends, and regularly washing their hands isn’t going to be easy for students. It may be difficult for them to understand why they have to do these things, and they may fumble occasionally.

That’s why it’s important to post reminders about good habits around your school. Faculty and staff also need to consistently model healthy habits and be able to explain why students must adopt these habits to stop the spread of disease.

Stagger use of communal spaces, with regular cleaning in between uses.

In addition to staggering attendance, another best practice is to make sure that large groups of students don’t congregate in shared spaces. This likely will mean canceling sporting events and pep rallies, but students will still need to use certain shared areas, like the cafeteria and restrooms. That means the cleaning of these spaces will have to be far more regular, ideally in between each group’s use.

Also, make sure spaces are cleaned after visitors come onto campus. To simplify your janitorial team’s process, use ScholarChip’s Visitor Management system. Visitors will be logged into the system when they both enter and exit your campus. After they leave, the janitorial team can be notified that they need to sanitize the spaces that the visitor occupied.

The United States can learn much from other countries that have already reopened schools for in-person instruction. Schools in Asian countries have widespread adoption of masks, while European schools have focused on social distancing indoors, while loosening these restrictions in outdoor spaces. While there are considerable unknowns about the impact of the disease in schools, rigorously implementing these strategies is administrators’ best bet for stopping the spread of illness.

The ScholarChip team is dedicated to helping school leaders maximize the safety and well-being of students and the entire school community.

Now sure what you should do to be able to identify and manage the spread of a viral outbreak in your school or school district? Feel free to chat with one of our school crisis communication specialists today!