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State releases ‘toolkit’ for safely reopening schools

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Public Health released a “toolkit” for schools on Monday that lays out protocols for in-school instruction and what to do if someone tests positive for COVID-19.

The 86-page document provides procedures for when a staff member or student tests positive for COVID-19, how to properly disinfect schools, how to report cases and determining school procedures based on level of risk determined by each county’s rate of infection, among other factors.

The toolkit is being released as some Alabama schools are starting to reopens this week, while most of Alabama’s largest districts will delay in-classroom instruction and start the year with only online instruction.

So far, at least 20 school systems have said they would begin the school year virtually, including Anniston, Birmingham, Gadsden, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa city schools.

Each school system gets to decide whether it wants to do in-person teaching, virtual-only or a mix of the two.

Due to Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, teachers and students in the second grade and above will be required to wear a face mask and maintain a six-feet separation while in attending in-person school.

The toolkit recommends that teachers arrange classroom furniture to maintain as much separation as possible and that students should remain in the same groupings and as static as possible throughout the day.

For meals, the toolkit recommends having lunch in classrooms or in outdoor spaces whenever possible.

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the first step is to isolate them in a pre-designated COVID-19 room within the school before they are sent home. The student or staff member must quarantine for 10 days with one day of recovery without fever or fever-reducing medications.

If a student or staff member is suspected of having COVID-19 because they are exhibiting symptoms, they are to be isolated and then are to check with their healthcare provider for further action.

Once positive tests are found, school nurses will determine who were the close contacts of the person testing positive. A “close contact” is defined in the toolkit as someone who has been within six feet for at least 15 minutes of the other person.

The close contacts will be isolated and sent home until a test can be confirmed or the quarantine period of 14 days has been completed. The school nurse will then report all positive or suspected cases to the ADPH.

The ADPH is in charge of contact tracing in schools and will contact those who may have had close contact with an infected person.

The toolkit recommends seating charts for classrooms and school buses so as to make contact tracing and case investigations more efficient.

Doctors, school nurses or principals are required to report positive cases to ADPH, preferably within four hours of notification.

The toolkit also lays out timelines of how long a student or staff member should quarantine if they are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 but doesn’t see them anymore; for someone who while under quarantine had close contact with someone else with COVID-19; or for someone who lives with someone who has COVID-19 and cannot avoid continued close contact.

Decisions made around closing schools will be made by local administrators with the consultation of public health officials, the recommendations say.

As of Monday, Alabama has confirmed over 89,000 COVID-19 cases and 21,469 were confirmed within the last 14 days. There have been 1,580 deaths from COVID-19 and currently 1,517 are hospitalized, according to BamaTracker.

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