The following strategies and adaptations were recommended by the United Nations health body, World Health Organisation (WHO) to be in place wherever possible to limit exposure to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19):
- 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 sick. 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 school.
- Schedule regular cleaning of the school environment daily, including toilets, with water and soap/detergent and disinfectant
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, desks, toys, supplies, light switches, door frames, play equipment, teaching aids used by children, and covers of books.
- 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 rooms.
- 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 time.
- 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 symptoms. Screening and management of sick students, teachers and other school staff
- Enforce the policy of “staying at home if unwell” for students, teachers or school staff with symptoms. If possible, connect with local organizations to provide home care support and ensure communication between home and school.
- WHO recommends 70% ethyl alcohol to disinfect small surface areas and equipment, or sodium hypochlorite 0.1% for disinfecting surfaces.
- 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 needed.
- 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 sick.
- Ensure students who have been in contact with a COVID-19 case stay home for 14 days.
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 others.
Communication with parents and students
- 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 household. 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).
Additional school-related measures
- 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 vaccinations. 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 staff. Physical distancing and tele-schooling Physical distancing at school
- Maintain a distance of at least 1 metre between everyone present at school
- Increase desk spacing (at least 1 metre between desks), stagger recesses/breaks and lunch breaks (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)
- Minimise 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 2 Most studies have used one metre as a benchmark for projection of respiratory droplets. One metre is equivalent to 3 feet and 3.37 inches. WHO is monitoring ongoing research on risks of COVID-19 transmission. Annex: Considerations for School-Related Public Health Measures in the context of Covid-19 -5- Tele-schooling and distance learning
- Initiate or continue tele-schooling. or similar method, by blended methods where necessary and possible (e.g. some student groups could take online classes, learn from home through homework assignments, blogs, engage in at home physical activity).
- If tele-schooling is not possible, invite students to take text-books home or arrange to deliver assignments. Consider radio or television broadcasts of lessons, arrange a buddy system for homework with older siblings at home, or with friends by telephone
- Ensure age-appropriate and frequent follow-up and support for children out of school and avoid penalizing or stigmatizing such students Monitoring of schools after re-opening As protective school measures are applied, it is important to monitor a range of factors such as:
- Effectiveness of tele-schooling interventions: How well has the school been able to develop tele-schooling strategies? What proportion of children were reached? What is the feedback from students, parents and teachers?
- The effects of policies and measures on educational objectives and learning outcomes.
- The effects of policies and measures on health and well-being of children, siblings, staff, parents and other family members.
- The trend in school drop out after lifting the restrictions. Inclusive and early collaboration between the school and the community is needed to develop and implement necessary measures.
It will be important to maintain flexibility and modify approaches as needed, and to ensure learning and sharing of good practices.
Completely closing schools without putting in place context-appropriate distance learning methods, wherever possible, and adaptive strategies to reduce potential harms may not be the best or only solution and should only be considered when alternatives are not available.