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As debate intensifies over reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic, Stanford University experts offer some tips to make the return to classrooms safer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has highlighted the importance of kids returning to the classrooms.
"Prolonged school closures can exacerbate socioeconomic disparities, causing negative education and health outcomes, and amplifying existing educational inequalities," associate professor of pediatrics Dr. Jason Wang said in a Stanford news release. "School closure may also aggravate food insecurity, domestic violence and mental health disorders."
But precautions must be in place to reopen safely, Wang said. That starts with school districts having a COVID-19 task force, which includes the superintendent, school board members, teachers, parents and health care professionals to coordinate safety planning.
Wang's team recommends:
- Testing kids with symptoms, more frequent testing of those from high-risk households as well as random tests of students and staff.
- Using pooled testing to cut costs.
- Working with local health officials to provide educational materials and training for COVID-19 prevention.
- Providing staff with thermometers and how-to information on COVID-19 screening.
- Setting up modular buildings to help maintain social distancing.
- Adding more school buses or adjusting schedules.
- Increasing budgets to support disinfection areas in schools.
- Equipping student desks with transparent plastic shields.
- Providing hand sanitizer and protective gear such as masks and face shields.
Wang said poorer communities may find the guidelines hard to adopt due to cost, and federal and state funding will be essential. Transparent desk barriers, for example, can cost $100 to $200 per desk; COVID-19 tests cost $50 to $200 per person.
"Low-income communities are suffering most from shelter-in-place policies because parents who are essential workers are out of the home and not able to help with online learning," Wang said. "And many children in these communities also live in crowded conditions that are not conducive to learning at home."
Despite precautions, COVID-19 outbreaks are still likely. Schools must be ready for temporary closings and a return to online learning, Wang and his colleagues said.
The recommendations were published online Aug. 11 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
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