What It Takes To Reopen School Buildings

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized that for school buildings to reopen, there must be a "commitment to implement community-based policies that reduce transmission when SARS-CoV-2 incidence is high". There are two elements here. The first is that people should be doing their best to prevent transmission of the virus. The second element is the current incidence of COVID in the community. Both highlight the most important key: disease transmission. Some have used percent positivity rate as a measure for transmission. This is only accurate if there is universal testing. Without widespread and regular testing, setting a given positivity rate as a threshold does not really hold any meaning because percent positivity is a function of both transmission and testing.

During the week of January 24, 94 students at Georgetown University tested positive for the coronavirus. The university acted quickly by suspending all hybrid classes until February 15. The Spring semester at Georgetown started on the 25th and although most classes are virtual, and most faculty and students are not allowed on campus, there are a few in-person courses. Georgetown current has a robust protocol in place that requires persons on campus to be tested twice per week if the person plans to be on campus two or more days per week. Both masks and social distancing are required. Cases continue to be discovered this past week and Georgetown has decided to continue to pause its hybrid classes through March 1. The percent positivity at Georgetown last week was less than 1 percent yet the university decided to continue the suspension of hybrid classes. Here, the metric taken to be most meaningful is the number of cases. The provost of the university explains: "The number of positive cases among undergraduates continues to be concerning, so we are extending the current operating status for undergraduates with restrictions."

Opening school buildings likewise require a commitment from the entire community to follow practices like masking and social distancing. My son currently plays as a goal keeper for his high school's soccer team. Here he is, as he trains with his coach:

Both coach and player are wearing masks. This is encouraging to see. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

In New Jersey, there is likewise a debate on school reopening. There are parents who are clamoring loudly for in-person classes. Since school board members are also members of the community, these individuals are likewise aware of the current commitment of the community with regard to stopping the virus. And in Middlesex Borough, a school board member has used a photograph of a family sledding to prove the point that the community is not yet ready for school buildings to reopen. Faces have been blurred in the photo below, but no one in this photo is seen wearing a mask.

Above copied from NJ.COM

With variants and only a small fraction of the population vaccinated, there is a risk for another surge in cases. Reopening school buildings requires two things: low number of cases and a strong commitment to practice social distancing and wearing masks.