A look at the super-sanitized steps, already in play, when it comes to ensuring the kids are alright.
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Even before the pandemic, parents were well-aware of the contagion risk presented by schools and childcare settings. The sight of that one kid with the permanently runny nose, at the drop-off zone, prompted a sense of the inevitable: as that child goes, so goes my own.
Leave no child behind…as long as they’re wearing a mask
Fortunately, the evidence shows that the actual risk of coronavirus transmission at schools and childcare settings is quite low. More importantly, these institutions now have a wealth of experience to make in-person education, and aftercare services, safer than ever.
The lessons learned from the pandemic should make these settings less likely to transmit colds, influenza and even the next virus. But education officials must apply the best practices developed from the pandemic that prevented them from becoming superspreaders in the first place.
Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics offers some insight for future practices to keep children safe. The Academy conducted a study of childcare operators that remained open during the first grisly months of the pandemic. The data was surprising: Contrary to dire predictions, childcare centers did not become superspreaders. As the coronavirus raced through the United States, prompting mass shutdowns for schools and businesses, the operators that were legally allowed to stay open did so safely.
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A (heavily disinfected) checklist
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows how some relatively simple measures can have a profound impact on preventing transmission.
The first measure began before the children or staff entered the setting. Parents were asked whether they had any of the list of symptoms indicative of illness and temperature checks were then administered for children as well as the staff. Those with a temperature or symptoms were denied entry and were monitored until they were healthy.
Next, operators addressed the threat of asymptomatic children and staff. One of the primary reasons for COVID-19’s rapid transmission is that many of the infected had no symptoms. In the first months of the pandemic, behavioral safety measures were implemented that prevented transmission.
They disinfected high-touch surface, such as doorknobs, fixtures, hands, toys, books and classroom materials. All materials, that could not be disinfected, were removed. Children plus staff were required to wash their hands more regularly, wear masks and other personal protective equipment. Sharing of food, toys and pencils were prohibited. Social distancing measures were enacted, including segregating children into groups and keeping them separated at all times.
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Schools adopted similar practices when they returned to in-person education. What is interesting about the study in Pediatrics is that these childcare operators implemented these practices early in the pandemic, with little or no requirement to do so from the local or state governments.
This is good news for parents who rely on childcare or aftercare services. The operators in the Pediatrics study faced the least amount of regulation during the pandemic. They were actually allowed to stay open when everybody else around the country was shutting down. They kept their kids safe by adhering to some basic safety protocols.
There will be a return to in-person school and childcare, and the new normal appears to be safer than ever.
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