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How should Maryland schools reopen? There are precautions to take along with data to study | READER COMMENTARY

DeMarco Manning, a teachers aide, and Ryan Yates, teaching assistant, help students in a grade 5-7 classroom in the Henderson-Hopkins Safe Center for Online Learning in Baltimore. The partnership with the Y in Central Maryland provides space for 100 students grades K-7. Students are physically distanced in classrooms and as they move through the hallways.
DeMarco Manning, a teachers aide, and Ryan Yates, teaching assistant, help students in a grade 5-7 classroom in the Henderson-Hopkins Safe Center for Online Learning in Baltimore. The partnership with the Y in Central Maryland provides space for 100 students grades K-7. Students are physically distanced in classrooms and as they move through the hallways. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The recent article, “Maryland schools will have to report any coronavirus cases — but health officials don’t plan to publicize the data” (Oct 9), discusses how information is important for determining the opening of schools. Using the current number of cases in a school alone will not give adequate data to make a well-informed decision on whether a school should open the classrooms. The informed decision of opening a school is dependent on what experts call the “health metrics.”

In addition to the number of cases among the school children, the “health metrics” include the positivity rates of the community where the school is located. Looking at the numbers of cases only from the school shows a picture of too small a subset of the community. The indicators of decision making to opening schools can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. A document published in late August, “COVID-19 Guidance for Maryland Schools,” lists what schools need to have in place to safely open. This includes daily temperature and symptom checks, an isolation room at school to house students who become ill during the day, and spacing of 6 feet apart in the classroom. Mitigation practices must be in place.

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Grants totaling $10 million to the school system are needed to purchase personal protective equipment for school nurses, barriers for protection at key places (such as the cafeteria cashier), to cover salaries for extra staff for cleaning and teaching, and increasing space needed to have 6 feet of spacing between desks. The focus on getting schools ready to safely operate should be number one on the checklist. Only then look at the positivity rates of coronavirus in the community.

An alternative to having the schools supply this data is to extract these numbers from the corresponding age groups diagnosed with COVID-19 found daily on the Maryland Department of Health COVID-19 website.

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Jan Brant, Reisterstown

The writer is director of nursing services at Park School of Baltimore.

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