On Friday, in partnership with public and private schools, officials with the Department of Public Health (DPH) are issuing guidance and recommendations to serve as a framework for schools to incorporate into their own safety plans addressing when and how to scale back in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year.
“The health and well-being of students, teachers and staff is a high priority for all the stakeholders. There has been ongoing collaboration between the schools and DPH in response to the pandemic, which has been invaluable in the development of the guidelines,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, El Paso City/County Health Authority.
“As the pandemic evolves, we continue to provide guidance and recommendations to school officials based on current data and available information to properly respond to the rapidly evolving situation.”
Due to the continuous evolution of COVID-19 in our community, recommendations regarding school re-opening for in-person instruction and closures should be based on available evidence as well as state and local trends.
The DPH recommends interventions that should be implemented when a student, teacher or staff has symptoms, and is in contact of someone infected, or is diagnosed with COVID-19.
Schools are not required to seek out or receive approval from a state or local public health official; however, decisions to close schools for in-person learning should be made in conjunction between local officials, to include school administrators, school boards, and public health officials.
The decision to close schools for in-person learning will take into account a number of factors, such as:
- the importance of in-person education to the social, emotional, and academic growth and well-being of students;
- the level of community transmission;
- whether cases have been identified among students and staff;
- other indicators that local public health officials are using to assess the status of COVID-19 in their area; and
- whether student and staff cohorts have been implemented within the school, which would allow for the quarantining of affected cohorts rather than full school closure.
An individual school closure is recommended based on the reported number of cases; size and physical layout of the school; percentage of teacher, student, and/or staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, in consultation with the DPH and Local Health Authority. The DPH and Local Health Authority, in addition, may determine a school closure is warranted due to other reasons, including results from public health investigations or other local epidemiological data.
Schools may consider re-open after 14 days and the following have occurred:
- cleaning and disinfection,
- public health investigation,
- consultation with Department of Public Health
If a school is experiencing absenteeism of 10% or more for Influenza or COVID-like illness, the school should consult with the DPH for next steps, to include considering a school closure.
The Guidance on School Closure for In-Person Instruction is available at www.epstrong.org under “Health Orders.”