Reopening schools safely during a pandemic

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KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Schools all over northeastern and central Pennsylvania are formalizing COVID-19 safety plans when students eventually return to school.

Keeping them from catching the virus and spreading it is essential to in-class learning. While some school districts will start the year with online learning from home, others like Wyoming Valley West will begin the semester with hybrid learning.

Parents and medical experts are weighing-in with their concerns. It’s off to the pool for the Longfoot family one month before 9-year-old Nathan and 6-year-old Tyler begin a new school year like no other.

Their mother, Nicole Longfoot of Kingston said, “It’s going to be a really big challenge I think for especially younger ones that don’t quite understand it.”

The coronavirus crisis presents the same big challenge that forced schools to close in the first place in March: How do you control the spread of a highly contagious virus in schools?

“This is the billion dollar question right now,” Dr. Megan Collins, the Co-Director of Johns Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions, said.

Eyewitness News spoke with Dr. Collins, who says there’s no one size fits all solution.

“There’s going to be different things depending on where your school district is and what type of resources are available and what the infection rate is in the community,” Dr. Collins said.

What may seem like the obvious is particularly critical. Dr. Collins says well thought out safety protocols must be in place to protect students, teachers and support staff who help schools operate.

“And those are things like mask wearing and good hand hygiene and developing mechanisms for appropriate social distancing, making sure there’s, you know, good airflow and ventilation systems,” Dr. Collins said.

Preventing COVID-19 infection in schools, in theory, seems more difficult the younger the age of students.

“Like, are they going to be touching each other, touching personal belongings, borrowing pencils,” said Longfoot.

Whether schools become a breeding ground for coronavirus which spreads through the community remains to be seen. But it’s clear school districts need to be incredibly proactive if infections start.

“We’re going to have to be ready to be incredibly flexible as we may start with one plan and need to pivot to another and then kind of go from there,” Dr. Collins said.

Dr. Collins also helped co-found the Johns Hopkins University Initiative eSchool+ in February, weeks before Pennsylvania schools shut down.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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