With hundreds of thousands of students anticipating the 2020-2021 school year, the coronavirus not only compromises the safety of students all over the world, but may impact the way school systems operate and function during this ongoing pandemic. While many institutions are continuing their teaching methods virtually, others are opting for hybrid or completely in-person methods of teaching, depending on the state and school district. High schools everywhere are beginning to open their doors. Many universities have permitted their students to move into on-campus housing, filling their dorms with students eager to begin college, or those who long to reunite with their peers.
In this time of isolation and constant state of caution, access to education and learning plays a vital role in bringing normality and routine to our quarantined lives. But a raging pandemic present as school begins in the fall poses a substantial problem concerning safety within the classroom.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have continuously operated throughout the spread of this virus and has concluded a number of ways for the community to stay safe during this time: Washing your hands, Avoiding close contact, Wearing a face mask when around others, Covering coughs and sneezes, Cleaning and disinfecting, and Monitoring your health regularly. We are constantly reminded of these basic recommendations in our grocery stores, our gas stations, our banks, and even our favorite take-out restaurants. In addition to following these guidelines, how can students learn in-person while simultaneously avoid COVID-19?
The first step in preventing the spread of the coronavirus is to understand how it operates. COVID-19 is thought to be spread by respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs, sneezes, or even talks, and is then inhaled by another individual.
Knowing how the virus spreads, students everywhere must tailor their schedules and lifestyles around these precautions in order to stay safe, and to keep others safe as well. Dr. Victor De Leon, MD, a family practice physician based in Las Vegas, NV, speaks on the assumptions that young students may make when facing the virus.
Dr. Victor DeLeon, MD, is a family practice physician based in Las Vegas, NV. Photo By: ZocDoc
“One common misconception is that younger kids are not as likely to get the virus as older individuals, or that younger people are not affected by the virus. Another misconception that was proven false was that once the summer heat comes, the virus will disappear. But obviously, that has not been the case.”
Learning in an in-person environment, whether the school will be enforcing strict regulations or none at all, students will inevitably be in close contact with each other. It is up to the students to take responsibility and follow safety regulations. With students sharing classrooms, desks, lab spaces, bathrooms, and even dorm amenities like laundry rooms or vending machines, many will be sharing space and utilities in order to function in their everyday lives. Washing your hands often, especially after touching these shared surfaces, reduces your chances of contracting or spreading disease. If soap and water is not readily available, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. In addition to washing your hands, it is just as important to sanitize and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Doorknobs, chairs, keyboards, remote controls, sinks, and even your phone are all places where bacteria and potential virus can gather. Hand-held hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes are viable options for sanitizing on-the-go, perfect for students going from one place to another.
Sinty Clements, a freshman at Duke University, is spending his first year at college on Duke’s campus in Durham, North Carolina. While many universities all over the nation have announced online learning through the fall semester, Duke allowed students like Sinty to live on campus, eat in the cafeteria, and even attend classes.
Schools like Duke that have continued operating with students on campus have found methods to enforce safety precautions throughout their schools, especially within the classrooms. “In one of my classes, I’m in a room that fits about three hundred people. Half the class is in person, and the other half is online,” says Clements. “We have about twenty-five to thirty-five people in person. With seating arrangements, we have to sit about three rows apart, and six or seven seats between each person.”
Wearing a face mask when in public setting, or even a classroom, reduces the chances of respiratory droplets being spread, especially when areas such as a classroom or hallway are hard to maintain. Yet even while wearing a mask, maintaining a social distance of at least six feet between yourself and others is another essential to avoid the spread of the virus.
One of the hardest parts of practicing in-person teaching methods is the difficulty to maintain proper social distancing. But ultimately, the most effective way to completely avoid the coronavirus is to initiate strict social distancing and to stay isolated. De Leon says, “For me, what I tell my patients, is if it is something that is not that important, I would rather them just stay home. But if you must go out, just make sure that you are wearing the appropriate equipment and taking the precautions that the CDC recommends.”
However, others like Clements do not necessarily have the ability to stay isolate, due to their schedule, working environment, or commitments. In the midst of the pandemic, he continues to dedicate his time at school as both a student and an athlete.
“As an athlete, we get tested once a week. But now that we are planning on playing other schools, we are switching it up to three times a week for all athletes.” Being in a position where he inevitably interacts with teammates, coaches, and opponents regularly, getting tested keeps those constantly working closely with others aware of their own health position. However this does not necessarily mean you will not get sick in the future, so when it is necessary, maintain a social distance from others.
After months of quarantining, young students have been anticipating social gatherings, hangouts, and parties to celebrate their reunion with friends and spend time together before the school year begins. However, with coronavirus cases rising, these social gatherings may bring a rise in cases. “These younger people, they don’t really know the severity of the virus, they feel like they’re invincible, that they’re not going to get sick. It’s really there. It’s very dangerous,” says De Leon. Avoiding these large gatherings completely and limiting exposure to other people will most effectively slow the spread of COVID-19.
After every student on his college campus took mandatory tests for COVID-19, many students found themselves taking advantage of the situation. “After that first week of school, when we all got our test results back, those who tested negative thought ‘I guess we can hang out outside now.’ So large gatherings were happening on the East side of campus.”
“I’m not going to be the one that cancels our season,” says Clements, hoping for the rest of his school year and soccer season to run smoothly. “Every couple feet on campus there is a sign that gives you a run down of the basic precautions.” Again, while we are constantly reminded of these basic suggestions, it is essentially the responsibility of the individual to keep themselves accountable in the midst of these uncertain times, especially students.
With current coronavirus cases climbing to nearly 7 million in the United States, it is more important than ever to practice these CDC-recommended regulations. While education is a necessity, and the need for a routine is essential for society to function, the safety of the community relies on a universal understanding of the severity of the situation.
“Life still goes on,” says Dr. De Leon. “The virus will be around us regardless, but all we can do right now is take those precautions. It has to be a universal understanding; schools must impose their students to wear protective masks, to take temperatures. If someone is exposed, to take the initiative to stay home.”