BOSTON (CBS) –There are a lot of questions surrounding the reopening of Massachusetts schools this fall – especially when it comes to keeping everyone healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic. A 19-page document recently released by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outlines protocols for when a student or staff member gets sick.
Some of the questions the guidance seeks to answer include “What should a district do if there is a symptomatic individual – at home, on the bus, or at school?”, “What should a district do if someone in the school community tests positive for COVID-19” and “Who should get tested for COVID-19 and when?”
The guidance stresses the importance of face masks and says the most important thing anyone in the school community can do is to stay home if they are feeling sick. Anyone experiencing symptoms like fever, cough or a sore throat must get a coronavirus test before they can return to school. If it’s negative, they can return to school 24 hours after they are symptom-free. If it’s positive, they should remain at home and notify the school so contact tracing can begin.
“Most people who have relatively mild illness will need to stay in self-isolation for at least 10 days and until at least 3 days have passed with no fever and improvement in other symptoms,” the guidance states. That person’s close contacts -anyone who has recently been within six feet of them for several minutes – will be told to isolate and get a coronavirus test, ideally four to five days after potential exposure.
If there’s a positive test from someone in an elementary school classroom, where students are more likely to be in close contact all day, everyone in the group will be told to isolate and then get tested, or isolate for two weeks if they choose not to get tested.
The protocol states that bus drivers should be trained to recognize symptoms and stop students from boarding a bus if they appear symptomatic. Students who develop symptoms on the bus or at school should continue to wear a face mask and will be taken by a nurse to a medical waiting room until they can be picked up from school.
Remote learning must be available for any student who has to stay home, the state says. Last month, the state released guidelines asking schools to prepare for three scenarios: a full-scale return to school, remote learning, or a combination of the two.
What happens if cases start to multiply? If there’s more than one confirmed coronavirus case at the school at one time or a series of single cases, school leaders will need to consult with their local board of health to determine if transmission is happening at the school, and figure out the next steps.
“These steps could include, for example, making a decision to a) close part of the school or the entire school for a short time (e.g. 1-3 days) for an extensive cleaning or other facility mitigation, or b) close the school partially or fully for the longer duration of a 14-day quarantine period,” the protocol states.
A significant number of new cases in a community may mean the entire school district could have to close. Schools must consult with the state before making closure decisions.
You can read the complete protocol guidance here. The state notes that the CDC may issue protocols related to school reopening in the coming weeks, and their guidance may change accordingly.