As Florida’s schools prepare to re-open this Fall, superintendents are weighing options for doing so safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP) today released “FCAAP Recommendations Regarding School Reopening”, a white paper to assist Florida’s school superintendents as they prepare their school districts to reopen. This guidance is pursuant to FCAAP’s recent letter to Governor DeSantis, outlining its position that schools should be allowed to decide how and when to open on a case-by-case basis based on COVID-19 infection rates in each school district.
COVID-19 positivity rates are currently extremely high in Florida with a rolling average of 12% of tests positive for new infections over the past two weeks. FCAAP recommends that school districts in locales with positive test rates averaging ≥5% over the previous two weeks delay the start date for school until positive testing rates are lower.
“Because infection rates vary so widely statewide, there is no universal plan that allows all of Florida’s school to re-open safely at the same time, and districts should tailor their plans accordingly. Ideally, each plan should be developed by each local school district in consultation with local pediatricians, family physicians, epidemiologists, and infectious disease specialists,” said Dr. D. Paul Robinson, FCAAP President.
In the white paper, FCAAP has highlighted key areas for consideration and offers guiding principles regarding:
· Screening for Symptoms
· Social Distancing in Classrooms
· Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Sanitation Procedures
· Considerations for Vulnerable Demographics
· Role of School Nurses
· School Sports
· Returning to School After a Potential COVID-19 Exposure.
Recent studies referenced in the white paper show children do not become as ill as older age groups with COVID-19, and they do not spread the disease as efficiently as adults do. The data are relatively limited to make definite conclusions about these contentions. However, if children, as a group, do not become as ill as adults, it does not mean every child with COVID-19 does not become ill, and that they will not infect those entrusted to care for and educate them.
“FCAAP believes it is important for children to return to school to reap the benefits of face-to-face education and the provision of other school services, but the benefits must outweigh the medical risks to the children, teachers, school staff, and families. In many areas of the state, coronavirus prevalence will not decrease enough in the next 4-6 weeks to make the benefits of school attendance outweigh the risks,” Robinson concluded.
FCAAP remains available to give guidance to superintendents if they are interested.