BOISE, Idaho — On Friday, Central District Health (CDH), the public health district that oversees Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties, issued new guidelines for modifying classroom settings for the upcoming school year.
The new guidelines come as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising in Idaho.
In the outline of recommendations, CDH said board members support transitioning to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year and issued the following statement on suggested modifications:
Central District Health (CDH) recognizes the value of in-person learning and the challenge of balancing the risks of COVID-19 and educational, social, and emotional supports. CDH continues to monitor case activity in our jurisdiction and we are mindful of the efforts underway to make our educational settings safe for all staff, faculty, and students. We are focused on providing information that will allow school boards to appropriately address the educational needs of students.
CDH's recommendations include conditions necessary to determine if and when students should remain in-person, adopt a hybrid learning model or return to full-time remote learning.
"As case rates rise there is an increased risk that COVID-19 will enter into the school from a community exposure. CDH recommends schools monitor closely for spikes or rapid increases [in COVID-19 cases], which can make effective contact tracing efforts more challenging for both CDH and the school, and could lead to spread within schools."
Below are the indicators used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine the level of community transmission:
- Total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days: 0 to 9.99
- Percent positivity in the past seven days: less than 5.0%
- Total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days: 10 to 49.99
- Percent positivity in the past seven days: 5.0% to 7.9%
- Total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days: 50 to 99.99
- Percent positivity in the past seven days: 8.0% to 9.9%
- Note: Ada, Boise and Elmore counties are currently experiencing substantial transmission
- Total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days: greater than or equal to 100
- Percent positivity in the past seven days: greater than or equal to 10.0%
- Note: Valley County is currently experiencing high transmission
Layering mitigation measures
CDC and CDH recommend the use of multiple mitigation measures to protect students and staff. Mitigation measures include:
- Consistent use of face coverings: CDH recommends face coverings be used consistently and appropriately in school settings by all school staff, students, and visitors especially when physical distancing cannot take place.
- CDH recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
- If you are not fully vaccinated and aged two (2) or older, CDH recommends wearing a mask in all indoor public places.
- Appropriately wearing a face-covering involves wearing a properly fitting mask that covers both the nose and mouth completely.
- Adequate physical distancing: CDH recommends maximizing space between individual students and staff, or between small pods (pods are independently spaced groups typically limited to 3-5 students).
- CDH said schools should be mindful of communal areas where monitoring space between intermixing students will be more challenging, such as bus pick-up and hallway passing.
- Schools are encouraged to use outdoor spaces when weather permits and non-traditional instructional space, like gyms, libraries and auditoriums.
- Additional information on physical distancing is outlined in CDH's Physical Distancing in Classrooms guidance.
- Ability to effectively isolate and quarantine: More students entering a school building could lead to an increase of internal COVID-19 cases. CDH said schools should be prepared to manage the potential rise. All cases and any exposed contacts must follow isolation and quarantine guidelines outlined by CDH's K-12 School Quarantine Guidancein conjunction with the current guidelines provided by the CDC. CDH also issued the following recommendations regarding isolation:
- If transmission of COVID-19 is occurring in the physical structure or among a specific team or extracurricular event, schools should modify plans and operate under these modified plans for at least two (2) weeks from an identified positive case in order to accurately assess if there is additional risk of transmission occurring.
- Schools should identify individuals who meet the probable case definition and these cases should be contact traced.
- Schools should use the infectious period defined by CDH to determine close contacts.
- Screening tests: CDC and CDH recommend the use of screening tests to help further reduce transmission within a school, especially in areas with substantial or high community transmission, low vaccination rates and schools not implementing prevention strategies.
- Screening tests are recommended for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated and should be done at least once a week to be effective.
- Cleaning and disinfecting: CDC recommends cleaning once a day and doing additional cleaning and disinfection if a positive case has been identified in the building.
- Routinely cleaning high-contact surfaced and objects (door handles, light switches, etc.) throughout the building as much as possible is also recommended.
- Ventilation: CDH recommends increasing circulation of outdoor air and delivery of clean air inside the facility as often as possible. In addition, CDH recommends:
- Open windows and doors to increase airflow from outside when the weather allows.
- Properly maintain the facility HVAC system. Rebalance or adjust HVAC systems to increase total airflow to occupied spaces when possible.
- Use portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to enhance air cleaning.
- Encourage the use of outdoor space when weather permits.
School-by-school decisions: Schools are encouraged to monitor individual site operations to identify trends in cases and clusters. If clusters are continuous or exposures become regular, CDH says schools may need to have short-term transitions to virtual learning in order to protect students and discover root causes. School-by-school decisions should consider building layout and class sizes to ensure physical distancing can be maintained as much as possible.
- Variations in grade levels CDH recommends schools consider cases, exposures, and quarantine patterns among grade levels. Elementary schools may be able to manage distancing which may make it easier to prevent clusters.
Extra-curricular activities: Any activity where masking and distancing cannot take place is high-risk unless all participants are fully vaccinated, according to CDH. Schools are encouraged to evaluate programs, sports, and other activities to ensure enhanced safety procedures are implemented to reduce opportunities for transmission.
In order to ensure students and staff can safely participate in in-person learning, CDH recommended the following policy considerations:
- School-wide asynchronous learning opportunities should be available to ensure those students that are in isolation or quarantine are able to access quality education as if they were in the classroom.
- Continue to report exposures to CDH and provide timely communication to families.
- A plan for students with a higher risk of severe illness who do not wish to attend in-person learning.
- Strengthened communication plans to the school community.
CDH's full list of conditions and considerations for the upcoming school year can be found here.
The health district plans to monitor COVID-19 conditions closely and will make changes to recommendations when necessary.
At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.
Facts not fear: More on coronavirus
See our latest updates in our YouTube playlist: