Back to School: COVID-19 Edition

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world and halted normal life altogether. This has affected our healthcare system, economy, schools, and more. Opening schools this fall to an in-person setting has been under a great deal of scrutiny with varying views on both sides of the spectrum.

However, it is agreed upon that the most important aspect when opening schools is to slow the spread of COVID-19 cases within the school and community.

Recently, cases of Coronavirus have been spiking in universities and K-12 schools around the country leaving administrators with very little options aside from quarantining students in dorms, sending them home, or closing schools entirely.

As of September 23, 2020, there have been 6,874,982 total cases in the United States, 302,971 cases in the past week, and 200,275 deaths overall.

How is COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own eyes, nose, or mouth.

There are many practices that can be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Washing your hands, staying home when sick, wearing a mask, cleaning and disinfecting, and social distancing are some of the most beneficial ways to protect yourself and others around you.

A database in New York was launched recently to track the spread of COVID-19 in the state by reporting all positive COVID-19 tests in each school and district. You can access it here.

Who is most at risk when opening schools?

Low risk: Students and teachers who meet through virtual-only classes.

Medium risk: Students partaking in the hybrid learning model where some students take part virtually and others participate through in-person learning. Larger in-person classrooms, alternating schedules, sharing objects, and mixing groups of students and teachers throughout the day can be of risk.

High risk: Students and staff that don't wear masks, social distance, practice proper hand hygiene, or irregularly clean and disinfect.

What can schools do to protect students?

There are numerous ways to protect students and staff, these are just a few of them:

-Eliminating lockers or grouping them by student groups

-Using outdoor spaces when possible for instruction, meals and recess

-Reducing the number of children on school buses

-Spacing desks out and having them all face in the same direction

-Using physical barriers, such as plexiglass shields and partitions, to separate educators and students

-Dividing students up into distinct groups that stay together during the school day and reducing interaction between different groups

Interview with student at University of Maryland:

1. How has being back on campus been so far?

After spending a few months strictly at home during quarantine, coming back on campus and living in an apartment with my friends has been a good change of scenery. It has allowed me to focus on my work without any distractions. Being in the same space as other students who are also busy with school is motivating and a good environment to study in. We also love to cook, exercise, and watch Netflix together which has been enjoyable.

2. Are classes still virtual-only or in-person as well?

Currently the campus is considered “open” but the majority of students only have classes online, including myself. Some students do have to go in person for labs or discussions but for most, that is not required.

3. How are students social distancing?

Some students have been social distancing by mainly staying in their dorms or apartments. When students hang out with their friends, they typically go outside with their masks on. That's not to say that there aren’t people who don’t wear their masks when they are outside. Some students also choose to go to happy hour at crowded bars and although most wear masks, I definitely don't think it's the right thing to do because it's impossible to stay six feet apart in that environment.

4. Has there been a breakout of COVID-19 cases since the start of school?

There has definitely been an increase of cases on campus. Although, I believe the fact that opening campus two weeks after the start of school helped slow the spread because classes were online for the first two weeks. Now that campus is fully open, the cases continue to rise. Currently, we are at a 1.3% positivity rate. However, that is only considering the tests that are administered by the University.

How Penny Appeal USA is helping:

Here and across the world, we are responding by providing families in need with access to food, hygiene products, protective equipment, financial assistance in the form of hardship grants, and school supplies. Our Emergency Response team worldwide has has already set up quarantine centers and distributions on the ground, delivering these necessities to those impacted in the United States, Syria, Gaza, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mozambique, and Uganda.