Planning for Schools Reopening in the Fall

There are still at least a couple of months before school starts in the United States. COVID-19 is obviously under serious consideration. With the pandemic affecting all countries all over the world for the past four months, there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding how the virus spreads. Spreading of the virus has been noted in stadium events, parties, restaurants, and religious gatherings. Of course, infection occurs easily within a household. Most children are only mildly affected by the novel corona virus but they can possibly serve as carriers. Some schools in other countries have reopened and it maybe useful to learn from their experiences. One country is Israel. Schools in Israel started with a staggered schedule and strict social distancing near the beginning of May, but after two weeks, these limitations were lifted. And the COVID-19 data of Israel begins to suggest a second wave.

Above copied from Worldometer

To describe the current situation inside classrooms in Israel, the following from a parent is useful:
The night before my two children had their first day back to school May 19, a friend forwarded me videos and photos from her son’s first day back a day earlier. The photos, shared by the teacher, reveal a classroom of sixth graders, mostly without masks, playing a game where the kids lie down on the floor next to each other (at about a 2 inch distance at best) and then raise themselves up plank style for a classmate to crawl on their belly beneath them. I, with my American eyes, did a double-take seeing the photos. I was astonished the teacher would find nothing wrong holding an activity that practically seemed designed to ensure the spread of germs.
Israel currently has 2000 cases per million people, which is much lower, for instance, compared to the number of cases in Fairfax county, about 10,000 per million people. In absolute numbers, Israel has about 19,000 cases while Fairfax county stands at about 13,000 cases. The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Israel is obviously connected to schools. More than 200 students and staff have tested positive since schools reopened. One school, Gymnasia Rehavia, a middle and high school, accounts for more than half of these cases. Schools, however, remain open. Classmates of those who tested positive are home-quarantined.

Above copied from the Jerusalem Post

The Israeli experience is particularly helpful since it shows how fast a COVID-19 hotspot can materialize. Schools reopening therefore requires vigilance. Reopening in Israel, however, is not limited to schools. Beaches and malls are likewise open and there are large crowds inside shops and social distancing has become a thing of the past. There is then a silver lining. With schools in session, new COVID-19 cases are immediately discovered. The daily new cases may indeed look like a second wave is coming, but hopefully, it appears to be a much smaller one. And at this point, it seems it has been arrested. COVID-19 is a serious concern, but closing schools is equally serious. Children can return to schools this coming school year, but it requires that we have ample and rapid testing.





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