This article was originally published in Public Risk Magazine.

By Cherri Lindquist, BSN, RN, CCM, clinical nurse manager of Company Nurse LLC

Intro

As schools continue to open their doors for in-person learning, it’s vital that they are ready with programs to protect the health of their students and staff.

Schools need to put plans in place to protect students and staff from diseases such as COVID-19 — especially with the rise of infections fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. While the vaccines are effective, they do not guarantee immunity against COVID. Furthermore, children under 12 are not currently eligible for vaccination and there are low levels of vaccination among ages 12-17 — ages that encompass most students.

Additionally, after over a year of remote learning, both students and staff are now becoming ill with everyday viruses such as the common cold and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is currently surging in children, as reported by NPR.

Dr. Pia Pannaraj, an infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles explained to NPR, “Last year, during all of the COVID-19 outbreaks and all of our social restriction measures, we did not see RSV the way we normally see it.”

That’s why it’s important to apply a variety of strategies to help better protect your school from COVID-19; Strategies that can also protect students and staff from other communicable diseases and illnesses. Here’s how.

A Multi-Layered Approach

The CDC suggests that schools take a multi-layer approach to protect staff, students, and their families from the pandemic. This approach includes several preventative measures including sanitization practices, physical and distance barriers, screening testing, vaccination strategies, and more.

By following multiple techniques, including those recommended by the CDC, you can help your school decrease the risk of COVID-19 exposures for staff and student communities.

Sanitization and Physical Barrier Practices

Your school most likely already applies several sanitization and physical barrier practices, like social distancing, disinfecting, and ventilation. However, make sure you stay up-to-date with the CDC’s recommendations to ensure you are applying these practices properly.

The CDC continues to recommend mask usage for those who are not fully vaccinated and for other circumstances, especially when people are unable to maintain physical distancing. Another strategy is to improve ventilation. Examples include opening windows/doors, using special fans, and/or updating your air filtration.

When it comes to hygiene, encourage students and staff to properly wash and sanitize their hands often. They must also be courteous of others by practicing respiratory etiquette, covering coughs and sneezes.

Cleaning and disinfecting are important parts of reducing exposure to infection. The CDC provides a guide of when and how to clean and disinfect surfaces.

As always, ensure that these practices are aligned with your local health department guidelines.

Screening for Everyone

An important measure in lessening spread is to screen students, staff, vendors – anyone who enters your school – for symptoms of and exposure to COVID-19. This method can help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other common illnesses in your school and your community.

Daily health screenings allow users to indicate whether or not they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Users that are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to COVID can then self-isolate.

Screening users before they enter the school helps to prevent symptomatic or exposed persons from exposing others. Your organization will want to utilize a screening solution that can be done virtually, at-home. Early detection will help minimize any disruption in both the students’ education and the staff’s attendance.

Testing and Vaccination Management

The CDC recommends testing for COVID-19 for varied reasons including known exposures to COVID-19 as well as if someone is experiencing COVID-19 symptomsCOVID-19. According to the CDC, “Screening testing identifies infected people, including those with or without symptoms (or before development of symptoms) who may be contagious, so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission.” The CDC recently expanded guidance for individuals to be tested, including even if fully vaccinated.

With a testing and vaccination report management process, you can decide who and how often someone needs to take part in screening testing. In addition, testing and vaccination management will help you to keep track of testing results.

The CDC states “screening testing should be done in a way that ensures the ability to maintain confidentiality of results and protect student, teacher, and staff privacy.” A secure, third-party tool will allow users to confidently submit their test results.

Report Absences

Screening and testing management can help schools and organizations to keep those with confirmed and suspected cases of COVID home.

The pandemic has impacted the education of students everywhere. If a teacher or other staff member calls out sick last-minute, have an easy and efficient absence reporting system. This allows the school to quickly find a substitute and to avoid the disruption of learning.

Access to Benefits

If an employee is positive for COVID-19 or other disease, or suspects they may have been infected, help them get the care they need so they can return to work healthy. Make sure they have quick, easy access to their health benefits. The last thing a sick employee needs is confusion about where and how to get care.

Consider a digital tool that houses all your employee benefits. That way, employees can find everything they need to get the care they need in one place. From finding providers to having access to their virtual insurance card, employees can complete their provider visits with ease.

Alert Notification System

Having a robust alert system allows schools to notify students and staff quickly with important information. For example, if your school has a COVID-19 outbreak, you’ll want to make sure that you can alert all your students and staff immediately and in a format that they can easily access.

Notifying everyone who might enter your school of the outbreak will allow them to stay home to avoid infection or, if they have already been infected, further transmission.

Look for a system that allows for a variety of channels, such as text, email, voice, so that you can send communications they way that works best for your school. With the right system, you can help keep your school safe and informed.

Communicate safety plans and procedures

Once you decide on which programs to implement, it’s important to properly communicate them.

The CDC provides resources and editable content to communicate safety plans and procedures. With consistent, open communication, you can help everyone adhere to safety rules to help protect your school and everyone who enters.

Record Keeping

Consider how your employees will enter screening, testing, and vaccination information, as well as how your organization will protect this PII (Personally Identifiable Information) and PHI (Protected Health Information) when receiving and storing. An excel sheet stored on your HR manager’s desktop can’t fully protect this information.

Look for a screening, testing, and vaccination management program that allows your organization’s users to input their information safely, with user verification. You should also ensure this program stores this information is stored securely, in a password-protected admin portal.

Managing this information also allows your organization to prove it is adhering to COVID-19-related guidelines and regulations. Your organization can show that it is asking the right questions and providing employees with the right processes for screening, testing, and vaccination.

Easy Access to the Tools You Need

With Lintelio, Company Nurse’s workplace digital solution for organizations’ health and safety services, you have access to the above tools and more. Email sales@companynurse.com to learn why Lintelio should be a part of YOUR school’s multi-layered COVID-prevention strategy!