Task force brings health officials, administrators, teachers & nurses together to plan safety strategies
(Toms River) – With the start of the new school season just around the corner there are still many unanswered questions on how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will impact the 2020-2021 school calendar. In the meantime, the Ocean County Health Department (OCHD) is leading a school task force called, the Ocean County Public Health/Education COVID-19 Summer Advisory Committee. The task force brings public health and school officials together to plan and prepare the best practices and guidance aimed to protect students, teachers and staff while still offering the best healthy educational scenarios.
“The main purpose of the group is to keep the lines of communication open between Public Health and Education institutions in Ocean County,” explained Daniel Regenye, OCHD Public Health Coordinator/Health Officer. “It’s an important opportunity to collaborate, share information and guidance recommendations as they become available from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) as we approach the start of the new school year.”
“The school task force is examining all the unique scenarios that the pandemic has presented and is working to provide the best case scenarios to educate while keeping the students, teachers, administrators and all school employees safe while also protecting the community,” said Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health.
The task force has already met several times this summer and includes a COVID-19 School Nurse Sub-Committee. School nurses will be at the front lines with a variety of responsibilities and Regenye explained that it was crucial they have a seat at the table and their voice be heard.
“The school nurses will have a very important job so we take their concerns very seriously,” said Regenye. “They will be called upon to make decisions regarding identification of symptoms, isolation protocols, contacts and quarantine and potentially recommend school closings.”
Other crucial topics at the forefront of discussion by the Public Health/Education task force include proper cleaning and disinfection protocols for classrooms, bathrooms, common areas and school buses. Others include emergency operation plans (EOPs), lunch room guidelines and after school activities and athletic programs procedures. Social distancing, face coverings and maintaining hand and respiratory hygiene measures are just some of the long list of challenges school officials will face.
“Schools, working in concert with the OCHD, have a key role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 to ensure students have a safe and healthy learning environment,” explained Patty High, OCHD Assistant Public Health Coordinator. “Schools must be prepared for any COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities and for individual exposures to occur in their facilities while ensuring continuity of education.”
Based on early studies and data, children of all ages are at risk for COVID-19. However, complications of COVID-19 appear to be less common compared with adults. The OCHD reports that 3.54% of young people 18 years of age and under have been infected with the COVID-19 virus in Ocean County as of July 17, 2020 with no deaths.
The next meetings of the Public Health/Education COVID-19 Summer Advisory Committee and the School Nurse Sub-Committee are scheduled for the last week of July. The OCHD has been providing up-to-date guidelines and information for K-12 schools on its website at www.ochd.org.
“These meetings, discussions and lines of communication will continue throughout the summer and school year and the OCHD and education officials will ultimately determine the best guidance that is feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs of each community,” Regenye concluded.
For more information on COVID-19 K-12 school guidelines can be found by visiting the CDC website at www.cdc.gov or at www.nj.gov.
The OCHD is also providing a general COVID-19 Information Call Hot Line for residents and clinicians to answer questions regarding the coronavirus. The number is 732-341-9700 ext. 7411. The NJDOH (NJPIES) hotline is available for questions around the clock at 1-800-222-1222 or by dialing 2-1-1. Other related sources; for medical COVID-19 questions call 1-800-962-1253 (24/7) or Text NJCOVID to 898-211 to receive alerts.