BUCKS COUNTY, PA — With schools in Bucks County looking to reopen in the fall after being shut down in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, parents and students alike have lots of questions.
The county's 13 public school districts are working to determine what the 2020-21 school year will look like. With that in mind, the Bucks County Department of Health on Tuesday released answers to a list of frequently asked questions about school reopening.
Earlier this month, the department released reopening guidelines to Bucks County school districts.
The county is recommending that students be required to wear masks on buses and "possibly in hallways," but not in classrooms. Students and staff will be required to have a mask with them at all times in case it is needed.
Additionally, a minimum distance of three feet spacing is recommended for classroom seating, and seats should be configured to maximize on social distancing, the county recommends.
Here are answers to some of the questions addressed by the health department on Tuesday:
Q: If there is a confirmed positive case in a student or staff member, do we have to shut down the classroom and/or the school?
The health department said no, that is "absolutely not our recommendation." Most evidence suggests children are less likely to be infected, less likely to have severe symptoms and are at lower risk of spreading the virus to others, officials said. Schools will be asked to handle the virus a they have things like whooping cough, measles, strep throat and the flu. "It is our strong intention to keep all classrooms, schools, and districts open, in the event of confirmed cases of COVID-19," the health department said. The health department said it will work with superintendents and principals to handle cases.
Q: What happens if a student or teacher becomes symptomatic during school hours?
The student or teacher should leave the classroom immediately, put on a mask, and report to the nurse’s office. The nurse should give the teacher or student an assessment including temperature check and should contact parents or guardians to arrange for transportation off site. The students or teacher's desk area should be sanitized and they would need to get a COVID-19 test or medical clearance to come back to school.
Q: Why are masks required for children on buses, but not in classrooms?
Health officials said requiring children to wear masks all day long "is unrealistic, causing discomfort, distraction, and/or mishandling. Students will touch their face more frequently and can easily contaminate and/or render the mask ineffective, and in the worst case, possibly spread disease." Masks also make it hard to speak or ask questions in class, officials said. Masks are more appropriate on buses, where social distancing is harder, they said.
Q: Why is a three foot minimum, instead of six, acceptable in the classroom?
Classrooms will be altered with a goal of as close to six feet as possible. But health officials say that, at three feet, there are "significant reductions in infection via respiratory droplets, as most droplets do not travel more than three feet due to gravity."
Q: What if a household contact of a student or staff member tests positive?
If a household family member of a student or staff member tests positive, the health department would then decide based on the exposure and an investigation as to how long, or even if, that student or staff member should be kept out of school under quarantine.
Q: Why aren't temperature readings required for all students upon entry to school?
Health department officials say the majority of Bucks County COVID-19 cases either never had a fever or did not develop a fever until after having other symptoms for several days. A negative temperature reading can lead to a false sense of security, as well as creating long lines and crowds outside schools, they said.
Q: What if my child has allergies or another chronic medical condition that often cause some of these same symptoms?
Parents should let the school nurse know ahead of time about these conditions. For example, the nurse would know to look for improvement if a child with asthma uses an inhaler or if a child with allergies improves after taking an antihistamine.
To see the answer to these and other questions, check out the school reopening document from the Bucks County Department of Health.