Is it safe for teachers, students to return to classroom as COVID-19 cases rise?

On Tuesday, nearly 10,000 elementary students will return to classrooms in Northern Virginia.

This includes half of third through fifth graders in Loudoun County and 50% of first-graders in Prince William County.

There has been a spotlight back on schools after Dr. Anthony Fauci said that schools are not driving an increase in community spread and New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that elementary students up to grade 5 could soon go back full time.

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FOX 5 spoke to a local epidemiologist Dr. Amira Roess who is not as optimistic as Dr. Fauci and believes now is not a good time.

“Right now, because we are in the midst of high levels or community transmission, you can’t really say that schools or any other place where people come together are safe. In the beginning of the pandemic, we had so few schools fully operating that at that time, schools did not seem to be places where super spreading could happen. However, that’s really changed,” said Dr. Roess.

Loudoun County parent, Christina Fedak, said her son will return to the classroom and she has mixed feelings about it.

“I’m very excited for him because he is a social butterfly and he really misses being around his friends. He loves the in-person interaction. It’s also kind of sad because his class is splitting up so he’s losing some of his friends from his classroom because they’ll be staying completely distance learning, but then I’m a little nervous with COVID cases being on the rise,” said Fedak.

She is worried about how the actions of others could affect her child.

“People are letting their guard down a lot more and you don’t really know how many people others have been around and you don’t know who those people have been around and so your child could be exposed to dozens or even hundreds of people and you just don’t know about it,” said Fedak.

Dr. Roess said it is important to remind your child to keep physical distance at school. Children may be excited to see their friends and teachers, but the hugs, handshakes, and high fives aren’t worth it. The last thing any family needs is the virus coming home.

Some families are wondering if they have to quarantine after traveling or spending time with people outside of their home during Thanksgiving.

Local school districts like Loudoun and Prince William said they are asking families to follow travel restrictions issued by the CDC.

This is what Prince William County Public Schools provided to families: Travel Advisory Information

However, Dr. Roess recommends self-isolating.

“It’s important right now that students and staff step back and quarantine especially if they’ve been around other people outside of their household on Thanksgiving day. We need to remember that the schools are not in isolated bubbles, but they are in the midst of communities that are seeing ongoing community transmission,” said Dr. Roess.

Staff, parents, and students in both counties will be required to fill out a health screening and symptom check before entering the school building each day.

Stay up to date on outbreaks at schools in Virginia here: Outbreaks in School Settings

Wayde Byard, Public Information Officer for Loudoun County Public schools said, “The safety and well-being of students, staff members, their families and the community is LPCS’ highest priority. Since last spring LCPS has been planning for the successful restart of in-person instruction, and we have developed an extensive series of protective practices and mitigation measures to help protect everyone who enters an LCPS facility.”

The following details below are the protocols Loudoun County Public Schools has in place to ensure the safety of all students:

Students and staff are required to wear masks during school hours – except while eating – and have to complete the LCPS symptom checker, a simple self-reported health screening that parents complete online each morning, before entering school.

There are stickers on walls and floors and bright red signs posted at 6-foot intervals. Arrows and cones created one-way traffic patterns to minimize potential student contact.

Each LCPS school will have a Care Room that is separate from the Health Office. The Care Room will be used only for students and staff exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. 

The school nurse or health clinic specialist will supervise the Health Office and support the health monitor in the Care Room.

Parents/guardians will be requested to come to school to pick up their student if they are taken to the Care Room. The student will not be permitted to ride the bus home.

The following protocols will be observed for LCPS students using bus transportation:

• Students are required to wear face coverings on the bus.
• Bus drivers are required to wear face masks and have been provided face shields to wear while loading and unloading students.
• Each student will have an assigned seat on the bus to and from school. The bus driver will have a seating chart.
• Where possible, students will be seated one to a seat in every other seat in alternating rows on each side of the bus. This will create a zig-zag pattern for maximum distancing.
Students from the same household will be allowed to sit in the same seat.
• When students arrive at school, they will remain in their seats.
• Bus drivers will keep doors closed until receiving clearance from school staff who are conducting health screenings.
• Flexible arrival times (up to 20 minutes before the bell) are being allowed to accommodate arrival health screenings.
• At dismissal in elementary schools, staff will escort kindergartners • and assist other students to their assigned buses.
• At dismissal in secondary schools, buses available for boarding will be announced and students dismissed accordingly.
• Each bus will be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant spray after morning and afternoon runs. This will include wiping down all high-touch areas and seats.