The Maricopa County Public Health Department will equip schools with a personal protective equipment “starter kit” to prepare for when students and staff eventually return to campus.
From communicating with school district board members to administrators, county officials have worked closely with school representatives to assist them with making “informed decisions” about some of the public health safety concerns upon reopening.
“There’s a really good chance we already work with your school nurse or health aid,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health Medical Director for Disease Control at a July 22 virtual meeting for the press.
She was joined by Maricopa County Emergency Management Department Director Robert Rowley to speak about the PPE kits that have already been distributed to some schools taking proactive steps.
While 91 schools have already requested and received a PPE starter kit --- personnel retrieved the pack that was recently distributed at a drive through --- remaining kits will be shipped to schools without it in stock in time for when in-person classes resume.
The 1,450 starter kits, which is “just enough items of PPE to get school started” include:
When asked if teachers will receive PPE, Mr. Rowley said, “The short answer is ‘No,’” since there is not enough county revenue to offer it to the teachers unless it was extenuating circumstances for someone.
“We are not going to be providing every teacher in the area with PPE,” he said, adding that they would look into fulfilling those requests if necessary.
“Our cash is maintained solely to fill in gaps until they (schools) can receive PPE through their own supply chains when they start coming in.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Sunenshine described how the county public health agency works with schools to determine the best course of action to minimize the spread of disease such as COVID-19 and other communicable infections.
She noted that individual schools are so far not required to report incidents to the county department but hopes that if there are at least two cases of an outbreak that schools would notify the government health agency.
“I think that is one of the situations that most of the schools are concerned about,” Dr. Sunenshine said, answering a hypothetical question posed about when a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19 in school.
She explained the importance of removing the person away from other people; wearing full personal protective gear including masks, gowns, goggles, and gloves.
Then, it has to be decided how sick that person is, whether the individual needs to be sent home, and for state and local government agencies to work with schools to develop lists of those who may have been exposed through contact with the infected person.
“Those people who are considered closer contacts will be notified about quarantine,” said Dr. Sunenshine, citing the usual 14-day isolation, which denotes the time from incubation to exposure and developing symptoms.
Although she said children get less symptoms and are less likely to become infected, she stated that up to 40% of people can have the disease and not develop symptoms. Children up to nine years old have lower rates of transmission, she said, noting that those older up to 19 years old have a higher rate.
“Children can transmit the disease to each other and adults,” she said.
While she recognized many parents’ concerns about sending their children back to school, she encouraged them to contact their local school districts regarding individual school efforts as each district decides on school start dates and on health protocol on a local level as overseen by the Arizona Department of Education.
Aside from assisting schools with “benchmarks,” to determine recommendations of operating, Dr. Sunenshine suggested for schools to make sure everyone on campus wears masks, wash hands, social distance and take needed precautions with meals and ventilation.
“Our case numbers are decreasing. Thank you to everyone who has been wearing a mask,” she said. “Everyone who has been wearing a mask --- keep wearing masks.”
At the beginning of July, Dennis Roehler, who participated on the Scottsdale Unified School District operations and logistics committee, assured board members during a recent meeting that district schools would make necessary adjustment during the pandemic despite many challenges faced with social distancing in classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, student recess, teacher breaks and more.
Mr. Roehler detailed what was needed to maintain government mandated recommendations in the wake of COVID-19 cases such as enforcing hygiene practices including students and staff staying home if sick or if anyone in their household is ill; washing hands, practicing social distancing, wearing masks; putting extra hand washing stations such as portable equipment on campuses; keeping personal and shared spaces clean.
In the classrooms, students cannot share supplies like scissors, writing utensils and more. There will need to be at least three feet of distance between desks, Mr. Roehler noted.
He added that some furniture including bookshelves and desks will be removed from classrooms; classroom seating will be in the same direction; and each classroom will be supplied with sanitizing products; all cafeteria food will be prepared and ready to go --- no more buffet-style; and buses will be thoroughly cleaned.
“Human nature is not going to maintain social distancing,” Mr. Roehler said, noting that social distancing hindered a well-rounded social, emotional, academic day.
Due to current circumstances, Mr. Roehler said there will be no justifiable cause to allow anybody like “the popular kids at a table” in the cafeteria to congregate.