By Carly Boies
Since the beginning of the pandemic, everyone has been asking the same questions: when will it be safe to go back to work, to school, to life as normal? Now, as the economy opens back up out of necessity and schools start up in the fall, the question schools must be asking is how can we open safely.
One of the places schools should look for answers are the hospitals. Hospitals, much like East, have a high concentration of people moving from place to place inside the building. They also hold a good perception in the public eye, much like public schools, because everyone has visited a hospital at some point. Unlike public schools, however, hospitals have more COVID-19 patients and thus easier access to Personal Protective Equipment. They have had to figure out how to protect their staff while treating patients with coronavirus, and because of this, some of their policies should be implemented if we are to return to in-person learning.
Dr. Dave Scudamore works as the Associate Professor of Pediatrics at University of Colorado and practices as a pediatrician for many hospitals around the city, including Children’s Hospital Colorado. Although he and his colleagues have only seen neonates–babies from the ages of zero to four weeks–and mildly sick children with COVID-19, they have still had to implement protocols for protection against coronavirus.
In the hospitals, doctors and other medical professionals are expected to wear procedural masks and gloves for every patient. They also wear gowns–a paper or plastic sheet that covers their clothing–and face shields. N95s, a more effective but unpleasant mask, are not used under normal circumstances and staff who do not interact directly with patients can wear cloth masks. Between each patient medical professionals change gloves and gowns and clean their face shields. Because of supply shortages, they keep their masks on the entire work day.
When asked if he thought the safety protocols were sufficient, Dr. Scudamore said, “Yes, absolutely, they are doing a great job protecting us.” He continued, “The last I heard from our epidemiologists was that no doctors have gotten infected at work.”
Obviously, the safety procedures at Children’s Hospital are sufficient. If no doctor has been infected in the hospitals, even when they have come in direct contact with patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, then the current protocols work. With the many parallels between public schools and a pediatric hospital, some of the successes of these safety guidelines should be used as a marker for protocols in schools.
As many states reopen, including Colorado, mask mandates are already in place, requiring people to wear a face covering when they are in indoor public spaces. Obviously this rule should and must be applied to the reopening of schools. Social distancing is also recommended, so some level of separation of students should at least be attempted.
Dr. Scudamore also recommended some degree of separation between the staff and students. “Schools should provide high quality masks for staff,” he said. Because teachers would see a larger percentage of students in a day than anyone else in the schools, keeping them safe would prevent a spread of the illness between cohorts. This step would help to isolate outbreaks to just one group instead of the entire school. Regardless, “Masks are number one,” Dr. Scudamore concludes.
Dr. Scudamore also believes that now would be the optimal time to open the schools. “It is my opinion that we should not wait for conditions to be better than they are,” he adds. Denver’s numbers are low and delaying the reopening of schools puts pressure and stress on working parents and teachers and further inhibits students’ learning. The numbers are low enough to justify reopening public school, and if we could adhere to the safety procedures, going back could be beneficial for everyone.