Frequently Asked Questions
This document covering school-related FAQs on coronavirus (COVID-19) will be regularly updated to reflect recent developments and new questions that arise. Additional topics and questions will be addressed on a running basis. To submit a question you would like to see addressed, please fill out this form.
How should we discuss the coronavirus with students?
Joffe Emergency Services: The coronavirus has dominated international news for a few weeks now, so it is likely that young students are at least somewhat aware of its existence. For the most part, in-depth discussions about what the coronavirus is and what it means should happen at home or in advisory - here’s a New York Times article for parents discussing what strategies are effective.
Of course, coronavirus conversations might pop up in the classroom as well. We’ll summarize the key takeaways from pediatricians and child therapists on how to handle it below:
For additional reading on the subject, see the Talking With Kids section of our Resource Library.
When is it safe for students to return to school after illness?
Joffe Emergency Services: As a best practice, it is important that anyone who is showing flu-like symptoms or is feeling ill stay home from school or work until they are no longer symptomatic. Additionally, the CDC is currently recommending added precautions at this time of a quarantine of a minimum of 14 days for those who are showing symptoms.
Considerations will vary, and schools may choose to request that students and staff receive medical clearance before they return to campus.
As you think about best practices for students returning to school, this may be a helpful guideline for you [link to forthcoming blog post with Sick Child Guide]
What are the best disinfecting and cleaning products to use that are school safe?
Joffe Emergency Services: The best guide we have found to disinfecting and cleaning products is the list provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, keep in mind that experts are indicating that everyday soaps are the best method of preventing the spread of the virus, so do your best to ensure that school supplies of soap are stocked and easily available to all members of your community.
To read more, this article explains the effectiveness of everyday soap products.
Is it true that doctors are advising against taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen and Aleve?
Joffe Emergency Services: The medical research about the coronavirus is evolving daily; as is often true, there are varying opinions among the medical community on this question among others. The Guardian reported on March 14 that French medical experts are recommending against the use of anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen and Aleve, as they believe they could aggravate symptoms. Instead, they are recommending the use of paracetamol, known in the U.S. generically as acetaminophen (or more commonly, as the brand name Tylenol).
There is ongoing research into the veracity of this claim so our best recommendation is to speak with your physician before starting any new medication.
How can we stay connected as a community during an extended period of closure?
Joffe Emergency Services: This is such an important question, because it’s a reminder of what an important role schools play in our communities. Here are just a few of the many ways you can stay connected to community members during a period of closure:
Support your families accessing computers and the Internet. Think about what resources you have to offer from your school (e.g. Chromebooks) or from your extended community. Additionally, share information to families about internet access programs, which will likely become increasingly ubiquitous. Comcast, to name one of several, is taking immediate steps to help connect low-income families to the Internet at home, in their “Internet Essentials” program.
How can we help provide food to students who rely on school lunches (and breakfasts/snacks) for part of their daily nutrition?
Joffe Emergency Services: Many school districts have decided to keep their nutrition services departments open for the duration of their school closures. Non-perishable breakfast, lunch, and snack items are being packaged in tried and true brown paper bags for pick up at schools during designated days and times. Take-away meals should be made available for all school-age children 18 and younger. Many schools are not requiring that the children be registered to their programs to qualify.
Remind parents and guardians that picking up meals for your children is considered an essential service and is allowed under Shelter-in-Place Orders and social distancing recommendations.
To ensure social distancing is being practiced during food distribution programs, Joffe suggests the following procedures be in place:
Should we purchase N95 masks for all staff and students to wear while at school?
Joffe Emergency Services: While N95 masks are helpful in health care situations, the CDC and WHO are not currently recommending them as a strategy for preventing illness. They offer the following reasons for well individuals not to wear masks:
Rather than wearing masks, we recommend strongly emphasizing general health and wellness best practices within your school community, with a particular focus on thorough hand washing.
How should we be thinking about masks at school? Should people showing signs of illness wear them?
Joffe Emergency Services: In general, we recommend following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which stipulate that “facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.” The CDC’s page on prevention and treatment of coronavirus includes additional context on the facemask recommendation.
Should those taking care of students with coronavirus, or suspected coronavirus, wear a mask?
Joffe Emergency Services: Yes, for anyone who is healthy and caring for someone with the virus, it is important to wear an N95 mask to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
How often should we communicate with families about the coronavirus?
Joffe Emergency Services: It is important to be in regular communication with your community during this process, providing general updates on the situation as well as what steps are being taken to keep everyone safe and healthy. Weekly messages are a good starting place, with additional communications to be sent on an as-needed basis if there are status changes. Some of this calculation depends on the culture of your community - if the campus norm is four emails from the school a week, you probably should be communicating more regularly.
It’s important that families know that your school is on top of this matter. However, overcommunication is something to be wary of as well. If letters or other communications don’t contain actionable information or updates, families may be less likely to read essential ones that may need to be sent later on.
What elements should be included in family updates?
Joffe Emergency Services: Our team has drafted a letter template (specifically for the week of March 2-6, please ensure all information is still accurate) that can be used to communicate with your community regarding coronavirus. Here are some key components that may need to be addressed in these messages, regardless of when they are sent:
Should we postpone all international travel planned for students in the coming weeks/months?
Joffe Emergency Services: The CDC currently recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to China and South Korea, but there are not currently any clear directives from the CDC, WHO, or other government organization halting international travel entirely. This interactive map that shows the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by country, along with this travel alert listing from the CDC may help you make an informed decision on a case-by-case basis.
Should we reconsider school-sponsored domestic trips for students?
Joffe Emergency Services: There are no specific restrictions on domestic travel, but we advise watching new developments closely to ensure your planned destination remains a safe place to travel. For any groups traveling, students and staff should be extra vigilant with hand washing and hygiene practices. For the most up-to-date information about travel recommendations, this website from the CDC will help you determine your best course of action.
Under what circumstances should we consider closing school?
Joffe Emergency Services: Your local department of health will issue a directive should it become necessary to close schools. For help contacting your local health department, use this directory. Otherwise, continue to use your community’s existing protocols and common sense responses that govern the response to instances of student or staff illness.
You may also make an internal decision to close school for any number of other reasons, such as if a member of the community contracts coronavirus; staff-to-student ratios are compromised; neighboring schools are closing, leading to stakeholder pressure; or the decision is made to close temporarily for a precautionary deep-clean. Another relevant data point is what other schools or organizations in your area are thinking and/or doing.
Keep in mind that your local department of health is going to be your best resource and thought partner in this decision; for any decision you need to make about closure, event cancellation, and reopening, lean on local health officials for their guidance and expertise.
Does our school need a place to quarantine a student if we suspect they might be sick?
Joffe Emergency Services: It is a good idea to make sure there is an isolated, dedicated space you can use for student care.
Do we need extra water, food, or other emergency supplies?
Joffe Emergency Services: One of the best practices in public health utilized during situations like this is called “social distancing.” This is when government agencies direct individuals to minimize the quantity, duration, and closeness of their public interactions. Because of this, it is unlikely that a school community will be faced with the task of providing emergency food or water over an extended period of time. For more information on social distancing, reference this government document on the topic.
Of course, there is certainly no downside to having additional food, water, or emergency supplies on campus.
What do we do if parents don’t pick up their sick student immediately?
Joffe Emergency Services: If you have a designated treatment area, keep the student there until a parent is able to retrieve them. If you do not currently have a designated, isolated treatment area, we strongly recommend setting one up. If timely parent pickups has been a recurring issue in the past, consider sending a note out to all parents emphasizing the importance of picking up sick students as quickly as possible.
What’s the difference in effectiveness between washing hands with soap and water vs. using hand sanitizer?
Joffe Emergency Services: In most situations and including in regards to coronavirus, washing hands with soap and water is the most effective way to get rid of germs and stay healthy. Below are the CDC’s guidelines:
If soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol should be used. As a reminder, sanitizers are less effective when hands are dirty or greasy. Below are the CDC’s guidelines for hand sanitizer use:
Ensuring that students are following best hygiene practices, including thorough hand-washing, can be a challenge. The CDC provides resources to help school staff address the issue effectively with younger children.
Should schools consider “deep cleaning” or sanitizing their campus?
Joffe Emergency Services: It is best practice to continue to perform routine environmental cleaning, particularly of all frequently touched spaces on campus (like doorknobs, desks, and surfaces). The CDC does not recommend any action beyond routine cleaning at this time. If possible, make disposable wipes available across school grounds so employees can regularly wipe down frequently touched items.
Consider sharing your existing cleaning and disinfecting protocols with your families in one of your communications, as they may not be aware of your current routine cleaning practices.
What is the best way to prevent the spread of germs and to be safe in school cafeterias?
Joffe Emergency Services: Routine and regular environmental cleaning of all cafeteria surfaces is essential. Beyond that, make sure cafeteria staff are following best practices in food safety. A list can be found on “foodsafety.gov”, but below are a few guidelines that are particularly relevant to preventing the spread of germs.
Do hand dryers in bathrooms potentially circulate contagions?
Joffe Emergency Services: We recommend continuing to emphasize best practices in school safety and hygiene to ensure that community members are washing their hands thoroughly. Effective hand-washing with soap and water is the best prevention strategy.
Public health authorities are not pointing to hand dryers as a key area of concern in preventing the spread of coronavirus. If there is a specific concern raised in your community about hand dryers, you could consider investing in a stock of paper towels as well as alcohol-based sanitizer to allow individuals alternative options.
Again, if there are additional questions you'd like to ask about the coronavirus, please fill out this form.