The new school year is like nothing any of us have experienced. Many school districts have already started virtual learning and others are back in the classroom settling into a new routine.
Of course, there are changes to make sure kids and staff stay safe. But what are the risks for the most common school activities?
Week two of in-person learning
The students and staff at St. Martha’s Catholic School in Kingwood are setting an example of how returning to school can be a success.
“We are taking every precaution that is necessary,” said Jessica Munscher, St. Martha’s Catholic School Principal.
“It’s going great. The kids and the teachers have been so excited to be here,” said Father T.J. Dolce, St. Martha’s Catholic School. “For us to stay in school we’ve got to follow all of the CDC guidelines. There’s no playbook for this but we are going to do our best!”
In classrooms, the seating is staggered. Masks are required. The lunchroom has assigned seating and regular cleaning.
“We try to be as stringent as we can to make sure our safety practices are safe for our students,” Munscher said. “This year what we are doing is having teachers rotate classes. We’ve eliminated the time they spend in the hallways by doing that.”
School Activity Risk Index
We looked into new rankings of extracurricular activities that are high and low risk according to a team of doctors and scientists.
“That activity you thought was safe, could actually be significantly risky. I think it’s important that we take a scientific look at things to help people make informed decisions,” said Dr. James Phillips, Chief of Disaster Medicine, George Washington School of Medicine.
High-risk activities include choir, drama, and band because of how many respiratory droplets are projected into the air. Medium risk activities include a cafeteria lunch line and an unmonitored study hall. Low to medium risk activities include going to the restroom, desk work, and art class.
Infectious Disease Doctor with Memorial Hermann in Katy says there is a safer way to do a lot of these activities. New rules don’t mean any fun. Here’s her advice on recess.
“As much as possible try to cohort kids, maybe everyone in one class gets the play structure for 10 minutes while everybody else is out in the field. Then you can recirculate,” said Dr. Linda Yancey, Infectious Disease Doctor with Memorial Hermann in Katy.
Riding the bus
Riding the bus comes in at medium risk activity. Some safety recommendations include keeping sats in between students and only allowing siblings to share seats.
For the older kids, the marching band is one that is already pretty low risk.
“Most of the practices are done outside,” Dr. Yancey said. “The kids are already spaced regulated distances apart just be sure to remind kids you don’t want to bunch up together to chat - keep that six feet of social distancing.”
“You are going to have a bunch of people altogether, singing and spreading respiratory droplets. This is actually a fairly high-risk activity. That risk can be somewhat mitigated by again, going outside,” Dr. Yancey said.
“Footballs and basketballs are easy to sanitize,” Dr. Yancey said. “If you have a couple of people using the same ball rather than it being tossed around to the entire team, that would better.”
In the lunchroom, you have different levels of potential risk.
“Sit beside someone rather than across from them. So you are both breathing from the same direction and not at each other,” Dr. Yancey explains.
One surprise finding, the high risk of carpooling. Experts found there is a significant risk of transmission if you are in a car with people you don’t live with. That’s even if you are wearing a mask. There’s just not enough air ventilation and social distancing possible.
“A natatorium, an indoor pool, that’s going to have a very humid environment,” explains Dr. Yancey. “It’s not going to be in the sunshine, the virus is going to last a lot longer in the area of an indoor pool than it would in an outdoor pool.”
Ready for the new school year
The staff at St. Martha’s is already finding that some of the implemented changes are ones they might keep for good. Which they hope provides some encouragement for those of you who haven’t started school yet.
“Don’t lose hope,” cheers Father T.J. “If you haven’t started school yet, don’t lose hope!!”
You can search for specific school activities and see the risks involved.