UTAH (ABC4) – Some Utah students are heading back to class today and while there are still a few days left of summer vacation for others, schools and health officials are reminding parents that COVID-19 is still here, and it will take everyone cooperating to keep schools operating smoothly.
For the first time in more than two years, school is going to look almost normal as students return to class for the fall semester. With that being said, health officials say the pandemic still isn’t over, school districts are taking steps to keep students as healthy as they can, and parents are asked to keep their children home when they’re sick.
“It feels like we’re going back to normal, but I feel like we’ll always have this threat with us,” Davis School District Communication Specialist Hailey Higgins told ABC4.
Health officials agree with her statement. Davis Health Department Communications Manager Trevor Warner stated, “It’s still definitely out in our community.” Bear River Health Department Public Information Officer Estee Hunt added, “So now we just need to take the steps to live with this disease.”
Health officials agree that COVID-19 is a disease that will now be part of life. However, the pandemic is still ongoing. With children returning to school, they urge parents to use caution and help slow the spread.
“It’s up to the parents,” Higgins stated. This year will be different from the previous two in that schools will not be able to implement any mandates. Higgins continued: “We’re not offering any mandates, there’s no required testing. We will provide testing before or after school if there is an outbreak.” Higgins explained that no student will be required to be tested. Nonetheless, rapid antigen tests will be available to students who choose during a COVID outbreak at any given school in the district.
This aligns with the Center for Disease Control’s latest COVID-19 guidelines for schools across the country. The new guidelines may be the most relaxed thus far during the pandemic. However, they aim to empower parents to make the best decision for their children. A decision that should be based on accurate data and information.
“That’s why it’s important for us to put in a lot of resources into tracking the virus in our schools and providing that information to parents so they can decide what’s best for their families,” Higgins said.
The district is taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 at its schools while keeping parents and guardians up to date on COVID outbreaks at schools via its COVID-19 dashboard.
The Davis County commissioners and the Davis Health Department secured $900,000 in Cares Act funding to help the district obtain resources necessary to improve COVID-19 protocol for the upcoming school year.
“That is allowing a full-time nurse as well as 10 COVID aides to really handle any outbreaks that really happen in our schools and offer that support,” Higgins added.
According to Higgins, if a student is exposed to COVID-19, it is up to the parent to decide what to do with their child in terms of isolation. The same goes for a student who tests positive for COVID-19. In any case, the district will work with the student to make sure he or she is able to stay up to date with his or her schoolwork if the parent chooses to have the child isolate for whatever reason. “We will support them if they decide to stay home,” Higgins stated. “We have online learning that we’ve really perfected over the last few years.”
The district also used the funding it received to purchase two years’ worth of HEPA air filters for air purifiers that are used across the district’s 92 schools. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency: “When used properly, air cleaners and HVAC filters can help reduce airborne contaminants including viruses in a building or small space. By itself, air cleaning or filtration is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. When used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and other public health agencies, including social distancing and mask wearing, filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors.”
The CDC and Utah health officials ask parents to know their child’s risk level when it comes to COVID-19 and do what they can this school year to slow the spread. While slowing the spread can be accomplished in many ways, there are two that seem to be the most important moving forward.
“If they’re not vaccinated, definitely do that,” Warner said. “If they haven’t been boosted, that’s one thing we’d recommend.”
Hunt added: “If you have a sick child, or you as a teacher do not feel well, the best thing to do is to stay home.”
The Davis Health Department and the Bear River Health Department offer immunization services for children who are returning to school. Many of these immunizations come at little to no cost. The health departments also offer the COVID-19 vaccine and booster.