MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wisconsin Department of Health Services released its guidelines for K-12 schools as they reopen for the 2020-21 school year Wednesday.
The guidelines outline ways schools can prevent the spread of COVID-19 as students, teachers and staff partially return to in-person classrooms in some school district. Those measures include best practices for wearing face coverings and cohorting students, and detail how to effectively detect and respond to cases and outbreaks in a school, according to DHS.
In addition to the guidelines, DHS Public Health officials will be working with local health departments to help school districts with the monumental task of reopening amid a pandemic. DHS stresses that the guidelines are not just for school districts, but for county health departments as they investigate and control cases and outbreaks in schools in their respective counties. The goal is for school districts and public health departments to work side-by-side as they execute reopening plans, and make adjustments through the 2020-21 school season.
“Education, health, and safety all go hand-in-hand, and that is why this pandemic has made school this fall such a complicated issue. Whether it’s in-person instruction or virtual learning, we know it’s going to be a difficult start to the school year, and we’re going to have to keep working together to figure out how to best serve our kids,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a news release. Evers is a former Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Most school districts have already released plans for reopening this fall, using a mix of in-person and virtual classes.
Read the guidelines here (use scroll function to move through document):
In the guidelines, the DHS recommends that anyone who had “close contact” with someone with COVID-19 symptoms in K-12 schools should be tested. However, routine screening testing is not currently recommended. The DHS adds that it is important students, facility and staff get vaccines for influenza before the flu season begins; a vaccine for COVID-19 has not been released and is still in trials.
The DHS further recommends that parents inform the school district if they discover that their student has had close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Parents will likely be notified by their health department if the child has been named as a close contact to a COVID-19 case.
Additionally, DHS recommends that if students’ desks are spaced six feet apart, that they remain in their desks for the entire class. The teacher is asked to stay at the front of the classroom, where they will remain six feet from any student.
School-based health care providers and teachers should send students home if:
• They have taken any medications (for example, ibuprofen, Tylenol) to reduce fever in the last 24 hours.
• They have tested positive for COVID-19, with or without having symptoms, and have not yet finished their isolation period per public health recommendations.
• Have been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a health care provider, and have not yet finished their isolation period per public health recommendations.
• Within the last two weeks, they have come in close contact with anyone who has COVID-19.
OR within the last 24 hours, they have experienced the follow symptoms above their baseline:
• Either cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, new loss of smell or taste OR
• At least two of the following symptoms:
o Fever (measured or subjective), or chills or rigors
o Myalgia (muscle aches)
o Sore throat
o Muscle or body aches
o Congestion or runny nose
o Nausea or vomiting
DHS stresses that clear communication between parents, teachers, staff and school-based health advisors is crucial. However, the department adds: “Teachers and school-based health care providers are encouraged to use a liberal approach when determining whether to send a child home due to illness.”
On Wednesday the DHS also released a new tool that residents can use to help contain the virus in the state.
Watch Wednesday’s DHS press conference here:
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